Have you ever wondered whether hearing aids help tinnitus? The good news is that hearing aids can provide noticeable tinnitus relief for many people.
However, there are many factors to consider in terms of choosing the right hearing aids. It can seem overwhelming to determine whether hearing aids are the right course of treatment, and if so, which ones to use.
Here's a useful guide to help determine if hearing aids will help your tinnitus.
Can Hearing Aids Help With Tinnitus?
For some people, hearing aids for the treatment of tinnitus can be a powerful tool for improving hearing and thus helping to mask or cover the tinnitus with sounds that they want to hear.
Hearing aids can also be helpful for people who have normal hearing sensitivity but experience difficulty hearing in background noise due to Auditory Processing Disorder (APD). They can also help people who have difficulty hearing in background noise due to mild or high-frequency hearing loss.
For both people with hearing loss and normal hearing, hearing aids can improve access to the sounds that they want to hear such as speech and provide sound enrichment. By improving the signal to noise ratio, hearing aids reduce listening effort as well as the frustration and/or anxiety associated with difficulty communicating.
Why Are Hearing Aids Recommended For Tinnitus?
Hearing aids help treat tinnitus by amplifying speech and environmental sounds such that the tinnitus is "drowned out" or masked by the amplified sounds. Similarly, this is why tinnitus tends to be more noticeable at night when there is less ambient noise present to mask the tinnitus.
An important consideration to bear in mind is that that tinnitus often signals a change in auditory status, i.e. hearing. Although the hearing test may reveal normal hearing or mild hearing loss, there may be subclinical changes to the hearing that your body has become aware of such as:
- Changes to the conventional frequencies (e.g. 250-8kHs) that result in hearing that is still within the normal hearing range
- Changes to the ultra-high frequencies (e.g. 9K-20KHz) which are important for speech perception in challenging listening environments (e.g. when background noise is present) and can be a precursor for hearing loss in the conventional range
- Changes to the auditory nerve or hair cell function that do not yet result in clinical hearing loss
- Intermittent or acute changes to the ear drum or middle ear (i.e. negative pressure) that cause temporary tinnitus
Do You Need Hearing Aids for Tinnitus?
There are a number of considerations to whether it's time to pursue hearing aids:
- Is there hearing loss in one or both ears on a hearing test?
- Do you or your family and friends notice difficulty hearing?
- Do you feel frustrated about your inability to hear conversation?
- Do you or your family or friends notice signs of hearing loss such as asking for repetitions, turning up the volume on the television, or difficulty hearing in background noise?
- Do you retreat from or avoid attending social activities due to difficulty hearing?
What If I Don't Need Hearing Aids for Tinnitus?
There are a number of other tinnitus treatments that can be helpful for people who either don't benefit from hearing aids or are not candidates for them:
- Masking or sound therapy for tinnitus
- CBT for tinnitus
- Practicing mindfulness
- Medical or Surgical Treatment if warranted
- Cochlear Implants if warranted (generally only used to treat severe to profound hearing loss)
What Are The Best Hearing Aids For Tinnitus?
If you've decided that it's time to pursue hearing aids, it can seem daunting to know which one/s is best. Each person's needs and personal preferences are unique.
The best way to investigate which hearing aids are most appropriate for you is to schedule a consultation with an audiologist.
The below are a few general guidelines when considering if hearing aids are right for you:
- They should offer adequate power to address your hearing loss
- Hearing aids should help you to hear better in most or all environments
- They should feel comfortable
- They should fit securely in the ears and not fall out easily during daily activities
- If you are interested in a tinnitus masker, many hearing aids / hearing aid models come with this feature as standard or an option
Modern hearing aids can be discreet and barely noticeable. An audiologist can help you determine which style is most appropriate for you.
For some people with tinnitus, the recommendation is to use the most "open fit" hearing aid possible so as to allow sounds to naturally enter the ear canal. That being said, how "open fit" the hearing aid can be depends on the severity of the hearing loss and not everyone with hearing loss can use an "open fit" hearing aid. Ultimately, the audiologist will determine which hearing aid style to recommend.
Important features help the user to hear more easily and address tinnitus include:
- Noise management features that help the user to hear more easily when background noise is present, thus reducing listening effort
- Ability to help you hear better in the places and situations that are important to you
- Binaural connectivity - hearing aids "talk" to one another such that they can use the benefits of binaural hearing
- Maskers - hearing aids offer a variety of pleasant sounds to mask or blend tinnitus including white noise and nature sounds, which I'll discuss in a moment.
Added Bells and Whistles
Hearing aids have come a long way and now provide the user additional benefits beyond improved hearing:
- Some hearing aids can connect to phones and tablets via Bluetooth, giving the user the ability to stream calls and media straight to the hearing aids
- Bluetooth compatible hearing aids also allow the user to have some control over features such as volume and mute using an app on their phone
- Some apps allow the user to customize hearing aid settings and create personalized programs
- Some hearing aid apps help the user to customize the sound quality of hearing aids
- Some hearing aid apps allow the user to communicate with the audiologist remotely, including to make minor adjustments to the hearing aids from afar
- Some hearing aids are now rechargeable, negating the need to have to change the battery routinely
- There are even hearing aid chargers that are rechargeable themselves and are portable
Hearing Aid Tinnitus Maskers
Hearing aids can provide masking or blending of the tinnitus in two ways: firstly they amplify speech and environmental sounds and secondly they can be programmed to produce a low level sound to help mask the tinnitus when speech and sound is not present.
There are many sounds of masking such as white noise, pink noise, or nature sounds such as rain or the ocean
Masking noise should be soft and pleasant, and should not interfere with hearing speech. Not all people who have tinnitus prefer using masking noise.
If your hearing aids don't provide this function there are many other ways to access tinnitus maskers.
How Long Will It Take For Hearing Aids To Help Tinnitus?
It's possible that you may notice an improvement in your tinnitus as soon as you start using hearing aids, or it might take time to adapt to using hearing aids.
During what is referred to as the adaptation period, the user becomes used to hearing more sound as well as amplified sound. They will adapt to hearing amplified speech as well as soft environmental sounds and conversation that they weren't previously aware of without the hearing aids.
Helpful hints for adapting to hearing aid include: using the hearing aids on a regular basis in a variety of environments; and to attend follow up appointments with your audiologist. If needed, your audiologist can make adjustments to the hearing aid programming to address your specific hearing needs and preferences.
Your audiologist can also provide counselling to make the transition easier and to help you achieve optimal tinnitus relief with hearing aids.
The Oto app offers techniques to reduce tinnitus intrusion including:
- CBT techniques
- Sound enrichment and audio landscapes
- Mindfulness activities
- Exercises to promote relaxation and physical wellbeing
Check out Oto's Tinnitus Support Group, a supportive community for individuals with tinnitus or related conditions to receive regular tips and tricks from the expert team at Oto!
- Motlag Zadeh, Silbert, N, et al. Extended high-frequency hearing enhances speech perception in noise. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. Nov 2019, 116 (47) 23753-23759; DOI: 10.1073/pnas.1903315116. From: https://www.pnas.org/content/116/47/23753
- Del Bo L, Ambrosetti U. Hearing aids for the treatment of tinnitus. Prog Brain Res. 2007;166:341-5. From: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/17956798/