Do hearing aids stop tinnitus?
Hearing aids are often a way of masking tinnitus, not stopping it. Using a customized, specialty hearing aid may, over time, alter the brain auditory pathways and improve the perception of Tinnitus.
What is Tinnitus?
Tinnitus comes from a Latin term that translates as a ‘tinkling’, but it is most often described as a ringing in the ears. It is a symptom of hearing loss or damage to the inner ear. For those with Tinnitus it can range from annoying to severely debilitating. It’s a condition normally associated with some loss of hearing, but you could experience a temporary ringing in your ears after a sudden exposure to loud noise (such as attendance at a loud rock concert or an air show with low flying jets).
For people who suffer from persistent tinnitus, it will be most evident when there is no other audio stimulus. As an example, testing for hearing loss is done in a soundproofed environment, which is when tinnitus is likely to be most obvious.
How do we hear Sound?
In very simplified terms, the sound we hear is a combination of pitch, measured in Hertz (Hz), and loudness, measured in Decibels (dB). Sounds range between low (think bass) and high (think treble) pitch, while loudness is like the volume on the dial. For adults, basic hearing tests deem your hearing as normal if you respond to sounds across a range of 0-25dB (loudness). To compare that to sounds in our day-to-day lives, gentle breathing is about 10dB, human speech is about 50dB, a baby crying might be 80dB, while a motorbike hits 100dB. Persistent exposure to noise at above 85dB is likely to permanently damage your hearing. However, it’s more often that people experience difficulty hearing high-pitched sounds (pitch) as a sign of their hearing loss. This is most evident when you lose comprehension of people’s speech, even people close to you, due to their particular pitch and the normal level of their voice. Women’s voices have a higher pitch than men’s.
Hearing loss affects pitch perception, and why tinnitus may become more evident in those spaces of perception loss. Hearing aids aim to both manipulate pitch and amplify particular sounds to compensate for the loss of hearing acuity. Most people will not need to use a hearing aid until experiencing what’s described as a moderate level of hearing loss, where sounds are getting lost in the 41-70dB range.
Hearing loss affects pitch perception………… tinnitus may become more evident in those spaces of perception loss.
Modern hearing aids can be effective for all types of hearing loss. The mechanics of it consist of a microphone, an amplifier and a speaker. The microphone receives sound, converts those sound waves to electrical signals which are then sent to the amplifier. The amplifier is there to increase the power of the signals before sending them to the speaker, which is in the ear. An analogue hearing aid will be preset with customised levels, whereas newer digital aids can be more flexible in making adjustments, including possible Bluetooth connectivity to various devices. Your specific settings will need to be determined by a professional audiologist or ENT specialist.
When can a Hearing Aid help Tinnitus?
So, even though a hearing aid may not be technically necessary until there is a volume problem, they could have greater benefit for those whose pitch recognition problems exacerbate their symptoms of tinnitus. By better linking your brain to your auditory perception, a hearing aid can diminish or effectively eliminate tinnitus as well as improving your quality of life and protecting your hearing from further damage or loss.
Your doctor should be the first to get involved and can refer or recommend audiologists and ENT specialists. Pinpointing whether the Tinnitus is a symptom of an infection, and inner ear problem, exposure to loud music or any other cause can take time.
A hearing aid could be an essential part of managing your tinnitus and improving your hearing.