Tinnitus is a common condition that affects millions of people in the United States. It is characterized by the perception of ringing, buzzing, clicking, or hissing sounds in the ear, even when there is no external source of the sound. According to recent estimates, nearly 15% of the general public, or over 50 million Americans, experience tinnitus. It is also often associated with hearing loss, making it a significant challenge for many people. In this article, we will explore the role that hearing aids play in managing tinnitus and improving the quality of life for those affected by this condition.
So do hearing aids actually help tinnitus? Research has shown that hearing aids help tinnitus. Three ways hearing aids help tinnitus are: masking and attentional effects, auditory stimulation, and improved communication. Furthermore, audiologists can include a separate tinnitus masking program (i.e., white noise, Zen Program) in the hearing aids programming to decrease one’s perception of his/her tinnitus.
The Effectiveness of Hearing Aids in Tinnitus Management
Hearing aids have been shown to be an effective way to manage and help tinnitus. In a 2007 survey, 60% of patients with tinnitus and hearing loss reported experiencing some help with hearing aids, with 22% reporting significant help. This is because hearing aids can improve overall communication and reduce the loudness of tinnitus, making it easier to cope with. They also provide three key benefits to those with tinnitus: masking and attentional effects, auditory stimulation, and improved communication.
Masking and Attentional Effects
Masking and attentional effects of hearing aids involve increasing the volume of surrounding sounds and focusing the brain on actual sounds, thus masking (covering up) tinnitus. Auditory stimulation involves providing the brain with actual sound, which stimulates the auditory system and decreases tinnitus perception. Improved communication, achieved through increased clarity and speech understanding, makes the patient feel less isolated and less focused on their tinnitus.
In addition, modern digital hearing aids also often have tinnitus masking programs that audiologists can use for tinnitus relief. For example, Widex hearing aids are known for their tinnitus relief capabilities and are equipped with the Zen program for holistic tinnitus management. Finally, counseling is also an important part of tinnitus management, and patients are encouraged to seek this type of support as well.
Another important benefit of hearing aids in tinnitus management is the auditory stimulation they provide. Essentially, hearing aids work by providing the brain with actual sound, which stimulates the auditory system and decreases tinnitus perception.
Hearing aids provide the brain with external sounds, which can help to activate the auditory system and reduce the perception of tinnitus. This is because the brain is able to focus on the actual sounds and less on the tinnitus. The more the brain is stimulated by external sounds, the less noticeable the tinnitus becomes.
In addition, the auditory stimulation provided by hearing aids can also help to reduce the negative psychological impact of tinnitus. When the brain is not stimulated by external sounds, it can become more focused on tinnitus, which can lead to increased stress and anxiety. However, by providing the brain with external sounds, hearing aids can help to reduce these negative psychological effects.
Essentially, hearing aids work by increasing clarity and speech understanding, which makes the patient feel less isolated and less focused on their tinnitus.
Hearing aids increase the clarity of sounds, making it easier for the brain to understand speech and other sounds in the environment. This improved speech understanding can help to reduce feelings of isolation and increase overall communication. When the brain is able to understand speech and engage in social activities more easily, it becomes less focused on tinnitus and less bothered by it.
Additionally, the improved communication provided by hearing aids can also help to reduce the negative psychological impact of tinnitus. Tinnitus can lead to feelings of isolation and frustration, especially when it becomes difficult to communicate with others. However, by improving communication and reducing these negative psychological effects, hearing aids can improve the quality of life for those with tinnitus.
Consider the two images below:
Patient A has hearing loss and reports bilateral tinnitus. The patient has not been fit with hearing aids. The patient perceives his/her tinnitus (described as a cricket sound) very loudly and distinctly because the background noise is indistinct.
Patient A then goes on to proceed with bilateral hearing aids. While taking a nice hike the patient hears the crisp distinct sound of the waterfall. The cricket (tinnitus) is still present but blends into the crisp sound of the waterfall (bottom photo). As a result, the patient’s attention is taken away from the tinnitus and focused on other natural sounds within the environment.
In some cases, hearing aid amplification by itself is not enough for patients. Newer hearing aids are all equipped with a separate tinnitus masking program that audiologists can program to specifically tailor each patient’s needs. The tinnitus masking program should only be set up by a qualified audiologist and used in conjunction with everyday hearing aid use, as instructed. Counseling needs to be part of tinnitus management as well.
Tinnitus Masking Programs in Modern Digital Hearing Aids
One of the most exciting developments in the treatment of tinnitus is the availability of tinnitus masking programs in modern digital hearing aids. These programs are specifically designed to provide relief for tinnitus sufferers and are an important tool for audiologists looking to manage this condition.
Tinnitus masking programs in modern digital hearing aids work by generating sounds that can mask or cover up the tinnitus sounds. These sounds can range from white noise to nature sounds and are designed to reduce the perception of tinnitus by the brain. Some programs even allow the user to customize the masking sound to their specific preferences.
Audiologists can utilize these tinnitus masking programs to provide relief for tinnitus sufferers. By programming the hearing aid to generate a masking sound that is tailored to the individual’s tinnitus, the audiologist can help to reduce the perception of tinnitus and improve the overall quality of life.
If you do not have a hearing aid, try it out by using a Tinnitus Masking App
Tinnitus apps are designed to help individuals who experience ringing or buzzing in their ears. Tinnitus can have many causes, such as exposure to loud noises, ear infections, or age-related hearing loss.
The apps usually offer a variety of features, including sound therapy, mindfulness exercises, and educational resources. Some of the sound therapy options include white noise, nature sounds, and calming music. The mindfulness exercises are designed to help the user reduce stress and anxiety, which can exacerbate tinnitus symptoms.
My Favorite Tinnitus Masking Apps That Are Free
Additionally, the educational resources provide information on tinnitus causes, coping strategies, and other helpful tips. Tinnitus apps can be a useful tool for managing tinnitus symptoms and improving overall well-being, but it is important to consult with a healthcare professional to determine the best course of treatment.
Widex Hearing Aids and the Zen Program
Widex is a well-known manufacturer of hearing aids, and their products are known for their exceptional performance in tinnitus management. Widex hearing aids are equipped with advanced technology, including the Zen program, which is designed for holistic tinnitus management.
“The Widex ZEN therapy features fractal tones known as ZEN tones, which are generated by the hearing aid. This therapy is composed of four parts, with ZEN tones serving as just one aspect.
By incorporating the latest advancements in hearing research, ZEN tones can effectively aid tinnitus sufferers in achieving relaxation and reducing stress. These tones can be accessed as a standalone program in all of Widex’s newer hearing aids.”
The Zen program is designed to be easy to use, and it provides the individual with control over the sound therapy they receive. With the Zen program, individuals can select the sound that works best for them and adjust the volume as needed. This level of customization is essential for tinnitus management, as each individual’s experience of tinnitus is unique.
Check out current prices on Widex hearing aids at ZipHearing.
Counseling as an Important Part of Tinnitus Management
In addition to using hearing aids, counseling is also an important part of tinnitus management. Tinnitus can be a distressing and isolating condition, and it can take a toll on an individual’s mental and emotional well-being. That’s why counseling is so important in the management of tinnitus.
Counseling provides individuals with the opportunity to discuss their experience of tinnitus and to learn coping strategies. A counselor can help individuals understand their tinnitus and provide them with the tools they need to manage it effectively. This can include stress management techniques, mindfulness exercises, and other strategies designed to reduce the impact of tinnitus on daily life.
Additionally, counseling can help individuals understand the psychological and emotional aspects of tinnitus. Tinnitus can cause anxiety, depression, and sleep disturbance, and a counselor can help individuals work through these issues and improve their overall well-being.
What should I do if I experience tinnitus? The first step is to visit your primary care doctor to see if anything is blocking the ear canal as well as determine if any medical condition and/or medications may be an underlying cause of your tinnitus. If there is no underlying cause, your doctor may refer you to an audiologist for a hearing test. The audiologist will take a detailed case history and perform a full audiological evaluation to determine if hearing loss is present and if a further medical evaluation is needed. From there the audiologist will make the appropriate recommendations to manage hearing loss/tinnitus.
Is there a way to treat my tinnitus? As stated above, there is no cure for tinnitus but hearing aids are a very effective way to help with tinnitus if you also have hearing loss. Other tinnitus management techniques include:
- General Wellness (i.e., Diet, exercise, stress relief)
- Sound Therapies
- Behavioral Therapies
How can I prevent my tinnitus from worsening? Although tinnitus can’t be prevented or cured there are some precautions you can take to manage your tinnitus. These include:
- Use hearing protection in the presence of loud noise
- Turn down the volume
- Take care of your overall health