If you’ve ever experienced tinnitus, you’ll understand how uncomfortable and debilitating this condition can truly be. Unfortunately for tinnitus sufferers, most individuals develop this condition as a symptom of hearing loss. This usually occurs from hearing damage, trauma to the auditory system or naturally through age.
Thankfully, those who experience tinnitus symptoms may be able to lessen the ringing in their ears by using hearing aids or other sound amplification devices. While hearing aids are not a cure for tinnitus, they can provide relief for tinnitus symptoms. Hearing aids may also be used with other various tinnitus treatments, depending on the severity of the tinnitus symptoms.
A recent study of 230 hearing care professionals reported that about 60% experienced minor to major relief of tinnitus symptoms when wearing hearing aids. About 22% experienced major relief.
On the flip side, less than 2% of patients experienced worse tinnitus symptoms when using a hearing aid, while about 39% experienced no benefit either way.
It’s clear that those suffering from tinnitus may look to hearing aids for relief.
How do hearing aids work?
Hearing aids are very small electronic devices either worn within the ear, or behind the ear. These devices have improved drastically over the years and now are incredibly useful for improved hearing and reduced tinnitus symptoms.
Hearing aids utilize a microphone, amplifier and speaker to increase the amount of sound received and processed by the body’s auditory system. Many hearing aid manufacturers are now creating hearing aids with a focus on tinnitus, or providing tinnitus support apps that work with their original hearing aids.
While it may feel very weird at first, it usually takes a few weeks to adjust to your new hearing aid and your new level of sound. Over time, your hearing aid will become very natural and you’ll become less and less aware of it. In addition, you’ll become less aware of your tinnitus.
Once hearing loss as been identified, it’s recommended that a hearing test should be performed every three years. This will track your level of hearing and ensure you have the best device and hearing aid settings for your condition.
How do hearing aids help tinnitus?
Even though many different issues cause tinnitus, a large portion of those who experience tinnitus also have hearing loss. Of course, hearing aids would obviously help hearing levels, but many don’t realize that they can also improve tinnitus:
- By increasing background noise (or creating background ambient noise) the hearing aid will reduce the loudness of tinnitus. It means that the external noise can help mask the noise of tinnitus, allowing the individual to focus on other sounds
- Increased hearing capability would improve communication and reduce overall stress, making it easier to cope with tinnitus
- Perceiving more external noise may help stimulate the brain’s auditory pathways, picking up sounds that might not be heard normally
- Hearing aids can reduce the frustration and social isolation felt by tinnitus sufferers. If the ringing in the ears sensation is severe, it may be hard to talk on the phone or join in on social gatherings. By masking the tinnitus noise and increasing external sound, the individual can participate in life as normal
Best Hearing Aids for Tinnitus
Widex Zen Therapy
Introduced in 2012, this program is designed for both hearing loss and tinnitus symptoms. Widex Zen Therapy consists of four aspects: counselling, amplification, fractal tones and relaxation.
Relaxation – Many believe that stress can negatively impact tinnitus. To relief this, Widex Zen Therapy includes sleep management tips and relaxation exercises to reduce overall stress.
Counselling – The program also provides personalized information about your tinnitus condition to best treat your symptoms.
Fractal Tones – Studies have found that fractal tones played through hearing aids can provide some relief to those who experience tinnitus. Widex Zen Therapy use these tones to provide additional relaxation to the individual and can also be used as a sound therapy tool.
Amplification – Because hearing loss almost always accompanies tinnitus, amplification can be used to decrease the overall loudness of tinnitus while stimulating the ears and brain.
Widex Zen Therapy uses the traditional benefits of hearing aids while also using modern methods, such as their own Widex Zen – Tinnitus Management app. You can use the app daily alongside their hearing aids for meditation and relaxation. However, this app is only available in certain countries.
Oticon Tinnitus SoundSupport
Oticon specializes in hearing aids, but also offers Tinnitus SoundSupport. This is a sound generator that can be added into their original hearing aids for tinnitus sufferers.
The idea is that you are able to choose various sounds to play through the Oticon hearing aids to reduce your attention on the tinnitus sounds. These types of sounds include ocean waves or a simple white noise. By focusing on these pleasant sounds, you can begin to “forget” the tinnitus noise by diverting your attention elsewhere.
Similar to Widex, Oticon also provides an app that allows you to adjust the volume of the ambient noises through your phone. Because no two tinnitus sufferers experience the same thing, Oticon focuses on flexibility of noises and volume to help the individual find what works best for them. You can also gain more relief by visiting a hearing professional with the app in hand to discuss the best tones and noises for your particular condition. Your doctor may be able to provide additional information about your tinnitus, such as you would be better suited to hearing high tone noise, or a certain frequency, to reduce your symptoms.
If you’re looking for tinnitus relief, ReSound could be a great option for you. They’ve developed a new ReSound Smart app that works with their original ReSound Smart hearing aids. By using the app, you’ll be able to adjust your tinnitus relief on the go.
Through the app, you can:
- Adjust volume, treble and bass
- Create personal programs and have your hearing aids switch to them in particular places, or activate them yourself wherever you are. Perhaps you find a certain level of noise helps your tinnitus best when you’re in the office, but a different level works better when you’re at the store.
- Similar to smartphones, you can actually track your misplaced hearing aids with the ReSound Smart app’s ‘Finder’ function
- You can reduce noise levels in loud environments so speech easier to understand
- Use a “wind filter” to reduce the amount of wind noise
- Find the exact pitch of the tone that brings most effective relief from tinnitus
- You can also try six different nature sounds, such as ocean, water creek or breaking waves
All in all, this level of control is incredibly beneficial for those suffering from tinnitus, while also improving hearing levels.
Other hearing aids for tinnitus options
Starkey: Multiflex Tinnitus Technology
Multiflex Tinnitus Technology understands that everyone experiences tinnitus differently. Their approach focuses on providing flexibility. Multiflex Tinnitus Technology creates a “customizable and comforting sound stimulus” that you can optimize with your hearing professional to take your focus off of the irritating sounds you hear.
These hearing aids are custom fit by a professional to fit your particular needs. Starkey also utilizes their SoundPoint tool which helps you identify your exact sound preferences at the fitting stage. This gives you the power to find the best fit and tones for your symptoms.
Signia hearing aids deploy three different options against tinnitus symptoms.
Static noise therapy and ocean wave therapy work to cover up the distracting sounds of tinnitus and divert your attention away from it. This type of sound therapy allows the user to relax and concentrate better on what they actually want to hear.
These hearing aids are the only ones to include “Notch Therapy” which Signia claims it can “reduce the annoyance of tonal tinnitus and may even make it disappear completely.” This is a bold claim. They also go on to say this type of therapy works by “permanently relegating the tinnitus sounds into the background over a long period, the overstimulation is reduced and the brain ‘learns’ to no longer hear the tinnitus sounds.”
Issues with hearing aids
As the previous study noted, a small portion of user found that hearing aids made their tinnitus worse. The positive to this is that hearing aids are not permanent. If you find that they don’t work well for you, simply stop using then.
However, the hearing aid itself is not flawless. While hearing aid manufacturers usually coat their products with a waterproof coating, these devices are still susceptible to wax and moisture. If you choose this option for tinnitus relief, the hearing aid will require regular maintenance. There can be a noticeable change in sound quality if the device has a build-up of wax, either on the device or within the ear.
The main concern is making sure the hearing aid is properly fitted to the individual and set to the correct settings. If the device is over-amplifying or under-amplifying, this can cause additional issues for those suffering from tinnitus. Make sure to visit a professional to ensure the hearing aid best suits you and your symptoms.
As tinnitus becomes more and more understood in the medical community, more advanced hearing aids will become available. Currently, there are numerous choices on the market that could provide relief for tinnitus sufferers. Many companies now include apps that connect to the hearing aid through the individuals smartphone, allowing for increased personalization. This will allow for fine tuning of tinnitus support to fit their individual needs.
If the hearing aid doesn’t reduce tinnitus symptoms, simply work on the settings (such as tone, frequency and volume) or stop using the device.