‘Tinnitus’ is the medical name for hearing sounds that aren’t caused by an outside source.
People who suffer with tinnitus describe these sounds in different ways, often as ringing, buzzing, humming, whooshing or hissing noises. It can be experienced in one or both ears, or in the head, and while for some people the sensation will come and go, for others it is constant. It can also vary in severity and, in the worst cases, become a major disruption to everyday life.
Tinnitus is not usually a sign of any other serious condition and it can improve over time, but if you experience it you should talk to your doctor, especially if you have it regularly or constantly, or if it’s getting worse or impacting your quality of life. You should certainly seek medical advice if you have tinnitus after a head injury, if it beats in time with your pulse, or if it’s accompanied by sudden hearing loss, weakness in your facial muscles or a spinning sensation.
It’s not always clear what causes tinnitus, but it’s been linked with several conditions including diabetes, multiple sclerosis or thyroid disorders, as well as stress, anxiety or depression. However, the most common condition linked with tinnitus is hearing loss, whether age-related or noise-induced.
Hearing loss is often gradual and almost unnoticeable for the person experiencing it, and some people assume incorrectly that it’s their tinnitus which is making it difficult for them to hear normally. In fact, it’s far more likely to be the other way round – that their hearing loss results in the gradual onset of tinnitus.
There’s an interesting theory (the subject of several studies) which suggests that as the human brain begins to lose the stimulus from external sounds (due to hearing loss) it automatically begins to replace them with internal ‘phantom sounds’, experienced as tinnitus. In other words, the phantom sound of tinnitus is the brain’s response to hearing loss.
The good news is that many people who experience tinnitus linked to hearing loss have found significant relief through the use of hearing aids. If those hearing aids can help restore the real external sounds, then the brain no longer needs to invent phantom sounds to replace them and the tinnitus recedes.
It must be stressed, hearing aids cannot cure tinnitus, but for many people they can help reduce the perception of it. If the tinnitus is indeed a physical response to sound deprivation, then it stands to reason that restoring sound through hearing aids can help combat the tinnitus. Some people also report sustained relief from their tinnitus for a period of time after they take their hearing aids out. It can be anything from a few minutes to several hours, but for many people it’s enough to help them get to sleep.
Most people using hearing aids to reduce tinnitus have found it best to wear them in both ears and the type of hearing aid used can make a big difference. It’s important that you get professional advice on the best type of hearing aid for you and your individual hearing loss and, if possible, a chance to try different types.
Don’t just buy a hearing aid ‘off-the-shelf’ or online and expect it to do the trick, as different types work in different ways. Modern digital hearing aids can also be expertly tuned by a professional audiologist to provide the maximum relief from tinnitus.
In short, hearing aids can help many people who suffer with tinnitus connected to hearing loss, but it’s essential to seek professional advice about the best type of hearing aids and how to use them.