According to the American Tinnitus Association, ringing in your ears, or tinnitus, is overwhelmingly connected to some level of hearing loss. Most people develop tinnitus as a symptom of hearing loss, caused either by age, long-term hearing damage, or acute trauma to the auditory system. According to the general scientific consensus, hearing loss keeps fewer sounds from reaching the brain. In response, the brain undergoes changes in how it processes different sound frequencies. Tinnitus is the product of these changes.
How Hearing Aids Reduce Tinnitus Symptoms
People with hearing loss and tinnitus may find relief by using hearing aids and other sound amplification devices. In a 2007 survey of hearing health professionals, respondents self-reported that roughly 60 percent of their tinnitus patients experienced at least some relief when wearing hearing aids; roughly 22 percent patients found significant relief. Hearing aids may effectively treat tinnitus for several reasons:
Tinnitus Masking and Attentional Effects
Hearing aids can supplement the volume of external noise to the point that it covers, or masks, the sound of tinnitus. This makes it more difficult to consciously perceive tinnitus and helps the brain focus on outside, ambient noises. The masking impact of hearing aids is particularly strong for patients who have hearing loss in the same frequency range as their tinnitus.
Increasing the volume of external noise also increases the amount of auditory stimulation received by the brain. There may be benefits to stimulating the brain’s auditory pathways with soft background sounds that might not otherwise be heard.
Loud tinnitus can make it difficult – or even impossible – for people to take part in regular communication and social activities: follow a conversation, talk on the phone, watch television, listen to the radio, etc.
Hearing aids help by augmenting the external volume of these activities above the perceived volume of tinnitus. As a result, these individuals may feel less personal frustration and social isolation.
Technology Is Making Better Hearing Aids Possible
The latest digital hearing aids, with open-fit designs and patient-customized hearing loss profiles, may be particularly useful in treating tinnitus. Moreover, many newer hearing aids include supplemental sound masking functionality (white noise or other artificial ambient sound, such as chimes, played directly into the ear) that further covers the perception of tinnitus. Like most tinnitus treatments, hearing aids may work best when paired with a structured tinnitus education program and some form of patient counseling.
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