Many of us have experienced the feeling of ringing in our ears. For many, this sensation may come and go quickly after exposure to loud noise or a thumping concert.
Some people experience the sensation much more frequently, gradually worsening over time. This condition is known as tinnitus.
The tinnitus sound can also be a buzzing, clicking, or roaring.
Tinnitus symptoms vary, but most hearing care professionals agree that it does point to a potential issue with the auditory system.
In some cases, chronic tinnitus can also be a warning sign for hearing loss.
What are the options for tinnitus relief? Can hearing aids help? Here, we discuss whether hearing aids are an effective tinnitus treatment.
What Is Tinnitus?
Some people call it “TIN-a-tus” while others say, “Tin-EYE-tus.” Pronunciation aside, tinnitus is described as a ringing in the ear.
It can also be clicking, whistling, hissing, roaring, pulsing, and more.
Tinnitus symptoms can be acute, only lasting for a short time, or chronic (ongoing). Tinnitus can be in one or both ears.
The condition itself is very common. According to the American Tinnitus Association (ATA), more than 50 million people experience tinnitus in the United States alone.
This includes roughly 20 million people who struggle with chronic tinnitus symptoms.
Tinnitus can affect anyone at any age. In fact, according to hearing health data by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), tinnitus affects around 2.5 million youth between the ages of 12 to 19.
Medically, there are two types of tinnitus:
- Objective Tinnitus. Very rare, objective tinnitus includes audible head or ear noises that other people can hear. It is often the result of sounds from the circulatory and somatic systems. Objective tinnitus accounts for less than one percent of tinnitus cases.
- Subjective Tinnitus. The majority of tinnitus cases fall into the category of subjective tinnitus. The patient only hears these sounds of tinnitus. In many cases, subjective tinnitus coincides with auditory reactions related to hearing loss.
While many cases of tinnitus self-resolve, chronic tinnitus can interrupt your quality of life and be a precursor to conditions like hearing loss.
What Causes Tinnitus?
There is no medical consensus on the exact cause of tinnitus. However, some potential causes could be contributing to tinnitus.
These causes include, but are not limited to:
- Chronic exposure to loud noises (working in a factory or construction)
- Head injury and trauma
- Ménière's disease
- Chronic stress
- High blood pressure
- Heavy earwax buildup
- Side effects of certain medications
Tinnitus and Hearing Loss
Although the exact causes of tinnitus may remain a mystery, one condition that is often closely associated with it is hearing loss.
In fact, 90 percent of people with tinnitus also have hearing loss, per the Hearing Loss Association of America.
Tinnitus and hearing loss often appear together. When you have hearing loss, less external sound reaches your brain.
Over time, this can affect the way your brain processes different sound frequencies. So, this makes tinnitus a result of the brain, not the ears.
Tinnitus often follows the pattern of hearing loss. In some cases, this causes the over-amplifying of certain sound frequencies, which is why tinnitus is commonly a high-pitched ringing.
In short, your body’s natural sound amplification system is out of order.
How Can Hearing Aids Help Tinnitus?
Since tinnitus is often an early warning sign of hearing loss, it makes sense that hearing aids could offer an effective treatment.
In fact, results from a tinnitus therapy study stated that hearing aids alone provided significant relief from the effects of tinnitus.
Hearing aids used alongside sound generators and sound maskers also provided relief.
Hearing Aids Help Mask Tinnitus Effects
Hearing aids can help augment the volume of external noise, masking sound. This helps cover the sound of tinnitus.
In simple terms, hearing aids make it more difficult to perceive tinnitus and help the brain focus on other noises.
This is very helpful for those patients who experience hearing loss and tinnitus at the same frequency.
Adjust External Sound Over Tinnitus Sound
Tinnitus can sometimes make it unbearable to participate in conversations or enjoy activities like watching television.
Most modern hearing aids allow users to adjust the sound quality and external volume, raising the volume of those activities above the tinnitus volume.
Hearing Aids Increase Auditory Stimulation
The ability to adjust the external noise volume also increases the amount of auditory stimulation that gets received by the brain.
Hearing aids may help restore this stimulation that has been missing, allowing you to hear background noises while lessening tinnitus noise.
This helps redirect focus, sort of like white noise.
How Should I Choose Hearing Aids for Tinnitus?
Most modern hearing aid styles and brands claim to offer some relief when it comes to tinnitus. But before you buy, here are some things to consider.
- Battery Life. Consider a hearing aid model with rechargeable batteries. Over time, this will equal less headache and less cost as there will be no need to mess with disposable batteries.
- FDA-Approved. Since they’re considered medical devices, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) does regulate hearing aids. So, ensure you’re choosing a quality product by making sure it is registered with the FDA.
- Style. Hearing aids are available in four main styles: Behind-the-ear (BTE), in-the-canal (ITC), receiver-in-canal (RIC), and in-the-ear (ITE). The BTE tends to be the largest and most visible, while the ITC is the most discreet.
- Connectivity and Compatibility. Most quality hearing aids feature a wireless interface for easy connection to Bluetooth devices. Smartphone compatibility is also important since many hearing aid options have specific tinnitus features with tinnitus relief settings that can only be accessed through an app.
- Noise Reduction Programming. Noise reduction is an important feature for those with tinnitus as it increases external sound volume for tinnitus masking.
- Cost. Cost may very well be the biggest factor in purchasing hearing aids. You can easily expect to spend between $1,500 to $3,500 for quality hearing aids — if not more. Healthcare programs like Medicaid Advantage could sometimes cover some of the cost.
The Best Hearing Aids for Tinnitus
There are a few great options for tinnitus. Let’s peek at some of the best.
Signia Styletto X
This slim BTE-style hearing aid boasts three built-in features for tinnitus relief: Static noise, notch therapy, and ocean wave sounds.
This device helps relieve symptoms by masking tinnitus noises by distracting through other sounds.
It is Bluetooth-enabled and compatible with the Signia App. You can only purchase it through hearing health professionals.
The ReSound Relief hearing aid offers several features to help combat tinnitus symptoms, like sound therapy and meditation that can stream directly into the hearing aid.
Users can even customize their relaxing soundscapes with the ReSound app.
These are only available through hearing care professionals.
Starkey Livio Edge AI
This hearing aid features customizable soundscapes to help relieve tinnitus noise and fine-tune settings through Relax's tinnitus relief app.
Starkey offers Bluetooth compatibility in all their styles: Behind-the-ear, receiver-in-canal, in-the-ear, and in-the-canal.
This canal-style hearing aid is among the most discreet hearing aids on the market, fitting snugly inside the ear canal.
Phonak states that the hearing aid helps reduce tinnitus because it can be worn for months without being taken out.
The Phonak Lyric hearing aid is only available through a subscription. The subscription does cover the maintenance and replacement of the hearing aid.
What Other Tinnitus Treatments Are There?
In addition to hearing aids, there are other tinnitus relief options to explore. Here are some of the most common:
- Electrical stimulation
- Relaxation and sound therapy
- Behavioral therapy, like tinnitus retraining therapy (TRT)
- Sound machines (act as tinnitus maskers)
Before purchasing hearing aids for tinnitus relief, visiting your local hearing center is the best place to start.
Here, you can consult a healthcare professional in the audiology field.
These hearing care specialists are trained to perform hearing tests and can offer medical advice regarding tinnitus relief and hearing loss.
They can also provide direction when it comes to treatment options.
Tinnitus affects millions of people annually, some cases being more debilitating than others. Aside from being annoying, this ringing of the ears can bring down your quality of life as it makes conversation and simple activities a chore.
Thankfully, there is hope.
Hearing aids are proven to help relieve those suffering from chronic tinnitus.
The first step is consulting your local hearing care professionals, as they can offer insight into which hearing aids might be right for you.
Looking for more info on all things hearing? Explore the rest of our hearing loss and hearing aid articles in the USA Rx Blog.