Tinnitus is a condition that describes a ringing, roaring, hissing, clicking, whistling or whooshing sound in the ears that has no external sound source. Approximately 50 million Americans – about 15% of the population – experience some degree of tinnitus. There is no cure for tinnitus, but there are many management options available; the most common recommendation is hearing aids.
What Causes Tinnitus?
Most commonly, people develop tinnitus as a side-effect of hearing loss. In fact, approximately 90% of people with tinnitus also have some level of hearing loss. This is typically due to the natural aging process, long-term noise exposure or acute trauma.
Experts hypothesize that hearing loss causes less external sound stimuli to reach the brain; in response, the brain undergoes neuroplastic changes in how it processes various sound frequencies. The result is the perception of sound when none is actually present.
What Are the Benefits of Hearing Aids?
A 2007 survey of hearing health experts found that about 60% of patients with tinnitus experienced at least some relief from their tinnitus when wearing hearing aids. About 22% reported significant relief.
There are several reasons for this.
Hearing aids work by amplifying sounds in the environment to a level the inner ears can detect. By turning up the volume of your environment, hearing aids help mask the tinnitus sounds. This makes it more difficult for you to consciously perceive tinnitus, since the brain is focused on the sounds around you. The impact is especially strong for people whose hearing loss and tinnitus are in the same frequency range.
The brain is very adaptable, meaning the neuroplastic changes that happen as you develop hearing loss can be undone to some degree. When you wear hearing aids, it increases the auditory stimulation received by the brain, allowing it to readapt to hearing everyday sounds and possibly decreasing incorrect tinnitus signals. It is important to note that this is most effective for people who treat their tinnitus and hearing loss early.
For more information about the benefits of hearing aids or to schedule an appointment with an expert audiologist, call Hampton Roads ENT today!