If you notice a ringing noise in your ears that no one else seems to hear, then you may have tinnitus. An auditory and neurological condition affecting nearly 50 million Americans, tinnitus has no known cure. This chronic buzzing, hissing, and clicking in one’s ears is a small nuisance for most people. For others, however, tinnitus is stressful and can cause more intense symptoms. Those with debilitating tinnitus often suffer from a lack of sleep, in addition to anxiety and an inability to concentrate.
What Causes Tinnitus?
There is no single cause for tinnitus, and while it can be bothersome, it is usually completely harmless. It can be a symptom of an underlying condition, most commonly, age-related hearing loss. However, it can be aggravated by substances like caffeine and some medications.
In rare cases, tinnitus can be linked to cardiovascular conditions, like high blood pressure, acoustic neuroma, or head or neck injuries. If you have bothersome tinnitus that starts suddenly and is constant — or is only present in one ear — it’s best to get it checked out by your doctor.
Did You Know: Tinnitus can occur in one or both of one’s ears. Additionally, its noises may be present all the time, or they may come and go in a seemingly random fashion.
How Is Tinnitus Treated?
Just as there’s no one cause for tinnitus, there’s no definitive cure, especially if the cause is hearing loss. Some people get complete relief by wearing hearing aids to treat hearing loss. However, if that doesn’t help, many people find they can get some relief using a combination of talk therapy, relaxation techniques, and deliberately using background noise to distract them from the tinnitus sounds. Using a variety of techniques can decrease the awareness of tinnitus in everyday life and make it easier and less bothersome to live with.
Can a Hearing Aid Stop Tinnitus?
To understand the link between hearing loss and tinnitus, let’s talk for a minute about the hearing process. We hear because sound travels into our ears, and our auditory nerves take those signals to our brains. The brain’s job is to put together all this acoustic information and make sense of what we’re hearing.
Our ears don’t select what we hear; rather, they hear everything, so our brains are tasked with filtering out unnecessary noises and background sounds, preventing us from getting overwhelmed by the many noises at any given moment. In cases of hearing loss (or other changes in the hearing system, such as an infection), our brains don’t get the same information from our ears. One theory is that when our brains try to get more information and fill in the gaps, it can result in tinnitus.
If your tinnitus is directly related to hearing loss, simply restoring your hearing by using a hearing aid can help lessen the symptoms.
On top of this, some hearing aid manufacturers have taken things one step further and developed specific tinnitus-related features to help mask out the sound of tinnitus and make the condition more manageable.
What Else Should I Look For In A Hearing Aid?
A hearing aid is an investment in better hearing and the ability to enjoy life more fully. With that said, these devices tend to run a pretty penny, so it’s important to choose one that covers all your needs. If you have tinnitus and are looking for a hearing aid, we recommend looking for the following:
- Tinnitus-Specific Programs: While there is no cure for tinnitus, certain hearing aids have a feature that allows them to play sounds that mask or cover up tinnitus-related sounds in your ears, almost like a white noise machine. You can choose to turn the masking sound on or off while still maintaining the amplification. These masking programs can greatly reduce the strain and stress of tinnitus symptoms for some people who find tinnitus excessively bothersome.
- Trial Periods: By law in most states and by practice elsewhere, you can return your hearing aid for a full refund (sometimes minus a service or fitting fee) within the first 30 days. Some hearing health-care providers even offer trial periods, allowing you to test out your device — in terms of fit and performance — before purchase. If you experience tinnitus, it’s important to test the tinnitus programs to see if the masking sounds provided work for you.
- Warranties: Hearing aids will usually last you from three to five years; however, a warranty will give you extra peace of mind in the event of breakage or damage. All hearing aids experience mechanical wear and tear from normal use, and a warranty will allow you to get service and repairs without worry.
- Customer Support: If your primary goal with hearing aids is tinnitus management, good support from your hearing healthcare provider is essential, from setting up tinnitus masking programs to helping with troubleshooting issues quickly. Some people need a lot of support, while others need very little. Choosing a product and provider with the level of support you need is important.
Best Hearing Aids for People With Tinnitus
Here are our picks for the three best hearing aid manufacturers that offer tinnitus solutions.