If you’ve noticed ringing in your ears at some point in the last year, you have plenty of company. About 25 million Americans experience tinnitus annually, for at least five minutes. Tinnitus is also a symptom that frequently accompanies hearing loss, and for some sufferers, the experience is constant.
Tinnitus isn’t a disorder or condition itself, but rather a symptom that accompanies other conditions or diseases. If the constant phantom sounds are driving you crazy, hearing aids may present a somewhat surprising solution to your problem.
The background on tinnitus
The exact reason why you have tinnitus may never be discovered, but there are known contributors that could cause ringing, alone or in combination. First of all, tinnitus isn’t a single sound, so sometimes it may not resemble ringing at all, but instead you hear buzzing, humming, hissing, clicks, or roars. It’s even possible to have more than one tinnitus sound.
Most times, tinnitus is subjective, meaning only you can hear the sounds, though there are very rare cases where your audiologist can detect tinnitus sounds that result from physical problems in your ears, called objective tinnitus.
Tinnitus may stem from exposure to loud noises, such as at a concert or in a factory. Prolonged exposure to these conditions also contributes to hearing loss, so you may have sustained hearing damage, even if the tinnitus episode passes. Other contributors to tinnitus include:
- Hearing loss due to aging
- Ear blockages, such as those due to earwax buildup
- Abnormal bone growth in your ear
- Head or neck injuries
- Meniere’s disease, a disorder of the inner ear
- Inner ear muscle spasms
- Eustachian tube disorders
- Acoustic neuroma, a benign tumor along the cranial nerve between ear and brain
- Blood vessel disorders
- Medications, including antibiotics, diuretics, quinines, high doses of aspirin, and some antidepressants
Hearing aids to the rescue
It may seem strange that hearing aids, which amplify real sounds, can help with tinnitus, which are usually generated by the nerves and brain. However, there are three ways that hearing aids relieve tinnitus and its effects.
Since your hearing aids amplify the frequencies affected by hearing loss, your overall perception of sound tips toward real sound. In effect, sounds from the real world take priority and your brain pays less attention to the tinnitus noise. The effect is similar to when you’re concentrating on a task. Other events and stimuli may go unnoticed as you focus your attention.
This goes together with masking. Since you’re receiving more sound information with your hearing aids in place, there’s more information for your brain to sort through. It’s another prioritization made by your brain. Since your tinnitus may be constant and low-level, the brain simply ignores it as background noise.
One of the primary benefits of hearing aids is in the improved level at which you can communicate. Untreated hearing loss can lead to social isolation. When you withdraw from family and friends, your world is, literally, much quieter, and you may spend more time alone with your tinnitus. Hearing aids eliminate this effect and further nudge your tinnitus into the background where it belongs.
Choosing the right hearing aid is easy, in partnership with an experienced audiologist like Bee Pathak of Professional Hearing Aid Service. Call the office or book an appointment online for a hearing exam and consultation. Find out if hearing aids are the right choice for your tinnitus.