Tinnitus is defined as any internal “head noise.” This internal head noise can often often be described as ringing, buzzing, crickets, roaring, static or white noise.
Over 50 million Americans report having tinnitus. This means that 1 in 10 adult Americans report having the condition. And, 36% of those individuals report that it is constant.
Many more people report having tinnitus than even hearing problems or hearing loss, (even though hearing loss is considered to be a main cause for tinnitus, specifically noise induced hearing loss). Other causes of tinnitus can be (but are not limited to) hypertension, dental or TMJ problems, medications, injury to the ear, head or neck, blood vessel disorders, Meniere’s disease and other chronic conditions.
As audiologists, we are trained to assess the auditory pathways to see if we might be to assist in finding a likely reason the tinnitus exists. We do a comprehensive case history and look to the patient’s medical team to rule out any coexisting conditions mentioned above.
How an audiologist might treat a tinnitus patient can vary widely. One of the biggest factors to consider is how disturbed an individual is by their internal head noise. The disturbance factor ranges from slight to severe. Sometimes people can be relieved by simply having a conversation about it. Often, especially if hearing loss is detected, people can be relieved knowing that there is a cause that can explain it away.
Many times audiologists explain lifestyle choices that can help keep the tinnitus tolerable. Fatigue, stress, sleep issues, obesity, high blood pressure, tobacco and alcohol use, aspirin, caffeine, nicotine and loud noise exposures can all complicate tinnitus.
Oftentimes, people can be relieved just by avoiding silence. Many people can benefit by running fans or noise generators when they otherwise would be in a quiet room. At night time, there are commercially available “sleep pillows” that help mask tinnitus for better comfort and sleep.
But, what if that is not enough?
Many audiologists offer tinnitus retraining therapy (TRT). This is an individualized combination of masking and counseling. Over time, TRT may help alleviate your awareness and disturbance of your tinnitus symptoms.
For the most severe cases, your audiologist should be able to refer you to various coping and support groups, and if necessary, to a health or mental “coach”.
Don’t Hearing aids help?
A majority of hearing aid users report relief of tinnitus from hearing aid use.
How is this?
I liken tinnitus to a candle lit in a dark room. In a dark room, a candle appears very noticeable and very bright. However, as more light is introduced to the room as a whole, the candle becomes very much less noticeable and more into the background.
Hearing aids can work this very way for tinnitus. By “brightening” and adding sound around you, often internal tinnitus symptoms can be drowned out by other noises. Think of this as the law of contrast.
I do have patients that do not hear their tinnitus at all when their hearing aids are in use. Now, I would never promise that to anyone, as it is unlikely, but it is in the realm of possibility.
Hearing Aids For Tinnitus: Factors To Consider
How would you know if hearing aids could help your tinnitus?
I tell patients to stand in the shower and let the water from the shower head hit the floor with full pressure. Does that sound help alleviate your tinnitus? Albeit a simple test, this may indicate whether a hearing aid may be of help to your tinnitus.
The first step would be finding an audiologist who can give you the proper assessment and treatment.
It seems like you can find hearing aids almost anywhere these days: on the Internet, in magazines, in big box stores, or from TV commercials. However, studies show that 70% of hearing aids obtained from these sources are MISFIT. In fact, if hearing aids do not offer relief from tinnitus, it can be an indication that the hearing aids were not fit properly.
To truly see if hearing aids would provide value they must be properly fit. This requires your audiologist to utilize best published practices and their expertise.
Choosing The Best Hearing Aids For Tinnitus
Most properly fit hearing aids utilize tools such as expanding bandwidth and tinnitus masking tools that can additionally provide acoustic distraction and acoustic randomization that can provide additional relief for tinnitus patients. At my practice, HearCare Audiology in Fort Wayne, Indiana, we fit brands Widex, Oticon and Phonak for our best success to our tinnitus patients.