To understand what people with tinnitus listen to all the time, imagine you have a radio inside your head that plays nothing but hissing, ringing, buzzing, or static noises all the time. Some people with tinnitus also hear roaring or whooshing sounds. Others hear squeaky, shriek-like sounds. Tinnitus noises can be soft, medium loud, or extremely loud, and affect one or both ears.
Although tinnitus can impact both children and adults, certain people are at a higher risk for tinnitus. This high-risk group includes:
- People over 40. Nerve fibers inside the ear deteriorate as we age, leading to hearing problems and symptoms of tinnitus.
- Being male. More men than women suffer from tinnitus.
- Smoking/using tobacco products. Constriction of blood vessels is a side effect of nicotine that is known to promote hypertension and hearing loss.
- Long-term exposure to loud sounds. Factory workers, musicians, military personnel, and anyone regularly exposed to loud noises can damage inner components.
Tinnitus itself is not a disease. Rather, it is a symptom arising from another medical condition that interferes with the way the brain receives and interprets sound signals from the inner ear. Some of the more common conditions that may cause tinnitus include:
- Cardiovascular disease
- Neurological disorders
- Chronic ear infections
- Head injuries
- Meniere’s disease
- Presbycusis (age-related hearing loss)
Treatment methods for tinnitus depend on what may be causing it. For example, if a physician thinks a patient’s tinnitus is due to a medical problem, the physician will treat the medical issue first to see if symptoms are diminished. Certain medications can sometimes produce noises in the ear that may need to be stopped or changed by the prescribing physician.
How Can a Dedicated Audiologist Help Treat Tinnitus?
If you have hearing loss, tinnitus, or another type of hearing impairment, schedule an appointment to be correctly diagnosed and treated by a licensed audiologist. During your appointment, an audiologist will take your medical history, ask for a detailed description of your symptoms, and conduct a hearing test to determine your degree of hearing loss.
5 Factors Involved in Treating Tinnitus with Hearing Aids
Many cases of tinnitus are caused primarily by hearing loss, especially in older individuals with presbycusis or people who have been continually exposed to extremely loud, sustained noise. When treating tinnitus, an audiologist looks at the following factors:
- Severity of hearing loss
- Severity of tinnitus
- Presence of medical conditions that could impact hearing
- Length of time the patient has had tinnitus
- Past use of hearing aids for hearing loss
Tinnitus is thought to emerge when the neural circuits in the brain’s auditory cortex adapt to hearing loss by increasing their sensitivity to sound. Another theory involves the disruption of neural signaling activity in the auditory cortex. Neurons in the part of the brain that processes and interprets incoming sounds basically can’t “understand” sounds anymore due to hearing loss. Consequently, researchers think these neurons may create unintelligible noises to compensate for their inability to interpret sounds.
Clinical evidence shows that hearing aids provided by a licensed audiologist can improve hearing and reduce or even eliminate symptoms of tinnitus. When a person hears better, they focus less on tinnitus noises and more on conversations, music, nature sounds, and other sounds they have been missing.
Tinnitus Masking with Hearing Aids
Some hearing aids for tinnitus introduce soft, soothing noises into the ear to mask the hisses, clicks, buzzing, and other irritating tinnitus sounds. This treatment is called tinnitus masking and may work successfully for some tinnitus sufferers.
Benefits of Hearing Aids for Tinnitus and Hearing Loss
People with tinnitus may find their symptoms gradually declining by wearing a standard hearing aid that improves their hearing. Once the brain is reconditioned to interpret sound signals correctly, the auditory cortex neurons return to near normal functioning.
Other benefits include:
Hearing aids amplify background sounds that the wearer previously missed due to hearing loss and tinnitus. This has been proven to drown out tinnitus noises by stimulating the auditory cortex with natural, environmental sounds.
Alleviates the anxiety and depression associated with tinnitus. The inability to hear and communicate with others is not only detrimental to a person’s mental and emotional health but can lead to misperceptions of what another person is saying, disagreements about what was said, and even family relationship issues.