Tinnitus or noise felt to come from the ears or head can be a debilitating condition affecting those without hearing loss but is more likely to occur in those with some form of hearing loss. It’s estimated that 70- 85% of the hearing impaired population experience some variety of tinnitus. The prevalence rates are higher with increased hearing loss because it is a deficit in properly functioning nerve fibres that enables other nearby nerve fibres to stimulate the brain even without a sound being present. It is normal for all of us to experience episodes of tinnitus and it’s often more pronounced after listening to loud noises / loud music. However, when the tinnitus is present constantly or affects sleep or an individual’s enjoyment of life, it is not considered normal. Often when people are stressed or tired, tinnitus perception can be heightened and can be more noticeable during quiet times or at night. Current research indicates that the use of amplification devices such as hearing aids can help diminish tinnitus disturbance in people with hearing loss. This is because hearing aids amplify external noise which can help “mask” the tinnitus. Hearing loss may change brain patterns which could be causing the tinnitus. Auditory stimulation through hearing aids could help re- establish proper functioning of the hearing nerve, pathways and brain. Also, because hearing aids help improve understanding of speech they decrease the “strain to hear” phenomenon and decrease the attention given to the hearing problems and tinnitus. Some studies report that in approximately 50% of new hearing aid users, tinnitus is reduced with hearing aid use. Many hearing aids now also have an in-built “tinnitus masking” feature that generates an external sound through the hearing aid which can be helpful.
The best people to talk to in regards to tinnitus and reducing it are Audiologists with a special interest / training in the area. Unfortunately, GPs are often not aware of treatment options or the cause of the tinnitus. Often people are told that “nothing can be done” to alleviate tinnitus but this is no longer the case. Tinnitus counselling, use of in-built tinnitus masking programs in hearing aids, medical treatments like the Neuromonics Tinnitus program (invented here in Australia) and Tinnitus Retraining therapy are all options in addition to hearing aids and some options are better than others depending on the nature of your tinnitus and your hearing levels. If your tinnitus is persistent and only in one ear, or is accompanied by dizziness and/or balance problems, consult your GP or audiologist to ensure there is no underlying medical condition causing the symptoms.