Hearing aids to relieve tinnitus
Tinnitus, or ringing of the ears, is an auditory sensation that occurs when there aren’t any external sounds. It is caused by the neurological system and can be heard in different parts of the head: in one ear or both; inside, at the back of or front of the head.
Tinnitus affects between 5 and 15% of adults and can vary from one person to the next. Some people hear very low frequency sounds that resemble a motor; others hear sounds like water running through a tube, a cicada or a high-tension electrical wire.
Many people are not particularly bothered by their tinnitus, some only minimally and some to a point where their daily habits are profoundly affected. Tinnitus is not an illness per se, but a symptom. It can be associated with pathologies such as depression, anxiety and sleep problems. There are several theories on why tinnitus occurs. However, it is still considered one of the biggest mysteries of the human ear. One possibility is that medication (ototoxic) and high-intensity noises damage the hearing system, causing tinnitus. Stress, lack of sleep and noise exposure are scientifically recognized factors that increase one’s experience of tinnitus. Recent research has suggested a link with hearing loss. Indeed, most people who suffer from tinnitus also experience hearing loss.
Although as of now no proven treatment exists, people with ringing in the ear can use management strategies to relieve the symptom. One of them is sound therapy or sound enrichment, where sound is used as therapy by distracting the person’s attention from the tinnitus.
There are several devices to manage tinnitus; below are three examples.
Sound generators are recommended for people who do not have hearing loss. There are both tabletop and portable versions. The portable version is placed in the ear like a hearing aid, but only makes white noise or other types of sounds to distract the wearer’s attention from the tinnitus, thus reducing its impact.
Several recent studies have shown that hearing aids themselves can be an active element in relieving tinnitus, in addition to their obvious advantage in improving hearing and communication. Hearing aids amplify the sounds around the wearer and send them to the ear. When the wearer hears the surrounding sounds, his or her attention is on the pleasant feeling of listening, which masks the tinnitus. What’s more, hearing is stimulated by the hearing aids, which is an important factor in managing tinnitus.
Hearing aids with sound generators
One of the crucial points of managing tinnitus is to avoid silence. Hearing aids aren’t ideal in this role when the wearer is in a calm, quiet situation. However, hearing aids that come with an integrated sound generator are very helpful. The audioprosthetists offer customized sounds while taking into account the patient’s degree of hearing loss. And if the tinnitus eventually disappears, the hearing aids can be used without the anti-tinnitus function.
- Reduce the communication problems caused by hearing loss (but often falsely associated with tinnitus);
- Decrease the effort and stress that come with hearing loss;
- Improve hearing;
- Stimulate the auditory system;
- Reduce the perception of tinnitus;
- Improve concentration.
Hearing aids and sound generators are an important part of managing tinnitus, and they are even more effective when combined with other strategies.
The key to effective management is to be followed by an audiologist who will design a customized plan. The audiologist will test your hearing, measure the psychoacoustic properties of the tinnitus and advise you on the strategies for your particular situation. If necessary, the audio- prosthetist will inform you of the best technologies to help you.
By Marie-Christine Trépanier, audioprosthetist, Groupe Forget