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Can Hearing Aids Help Your Tinnitus?
Tinnitus is a physical condition, experienced as noises or ringing in the ears or head when no such external physical noise is present. Tinnitus is usually caused by a fault in the hearing system; it is a symptom, not a disease in itself.
Hearing loss is a common factor underlying tinnitus, although some people with normal hearing may also experience tinnitus. Loss of hearing is often an unnoticeable and gradual process and many people are surprised when they are told that they have a hearing loss. It is quite common for people to assume incorrectly that it is their tinnitus rather than their hearing loss that is causing hearing difficulties.
For many people, tinnitus may be related to sound deprivation, for example hearing loss. The aim of fitting hearing aids is to correct any such hearing loss with the possibility that this may help reduce the tinnitus. Hearing aids should be worn throughout your waking hours to gain maximum benefit.
Some studies have looked at the effect of hearing aids on everyday life for the tinnitus patient e.g. how a hearing aid may help reduce tinnitus and improve quality of life. Other studies have more strongly suggested that for a significant number of people, hearing aids do reduce the effect of tinnitus. Bilateral hearing aids (one on each ear) have been shown to be more beneficial than using only one aid.
Since the introduction of digital hearing aids there can be more accurate tailoring of hearing aids to an individual and this has brought about an increase in the beneficial effect of hearing aids for tinnitus.
Open-Fit Hearing Aids
Unlike the traditional ear mold, open-fit hearing aids use a very fine tube or a speaker placed in the ear canal to deliver sound. This allows amplification without blocking out desired external sound or causing any occlusion effect. In occlusion, resonance is created in the blocked ear canal which often results in a “head in a barrel” sensation when speaking or amplified sounds from chewing food. Previously, large ventilation holes in ear molds were recommended for tinnitus patients, but they could not fully overcome occlusion and loss of desired external sound in the way that open fit technology has.
Although some people feel that their hearing loss is acceptable for their age, any hearing loss that causes problems should be treated. Some audiology departments will fit a hearing aid where there is a slight hearing loss, usually with an open-fit hearing aid, as there is some evidence to suggest it might be helpful.
Some manufacturers produce a hearing aid combined with a sound generator. This, in addition to amplifying sounds, provides extra low-level sounds in order to try to help the habituation process (getting used to the tinnitus sound). There has been some research on this with a small number of patients, but further work is required to single out the benefit from that given purely by amplification. The study concluded, “For most, amplification alone provided a reduction in tinnitus annoyance”. There is at present no proven advantage to using these devices rather than simple hearing aids.
If you or a loved one are suffering from tinnitus or hearing loss, make an appointment with a local audiology service for a hearing test and the fitting of a hearing aid.
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