Understanding Tinnitus: Signs and Symptoms

Tinnitus is a condition characterized by the perception of noise or ringing in the ears without an external sound source. It affects approximately 15% of Americans and can be triggered by several factors, including exposure to loud noise, age-related hearing loss, earwax buildup, and physical injuries to the ear.

The symptoms of tinnitus can vary greatly among individuals. Some people describe it as a ringing sound, while others might hear buzzing, humming, ocean noise, cicadas, or even music. The noise can be constant or intermittent and can vary in volume. It can be present in one or both ears and can be high or low pitched.

Tinnitus is often associated with hearing loss, with up to 80% of those with hearing loss also displaying tinnitus symptoms. This is because the delicate hair cells in the cochlea (part of the inner ear) can be damaged by exposure to excessive sound levels, leading to both hearing loss and tinnitus.

Can Tinnitus Be Cured?

There is currently no cure for tinnitus. The human auditory system is complex, and our understanding of how tinnitus develops is still evolving. For instance, even when there is damage to the auditory system, some people develop tinnitus and others don't. Some treatments work for some people but not others. 

Lastly, tinnitus is a subjective experience - it's something that only the person experiencing it can hear. This makes it harder to study, measure, and develop treatments for, compared to more objective symptoms or conditions.

But that doesn’t mean there is nothing to be done about those annoying sounds. Read on to find out how hearing aids can help you manage your symptoms. 

The Role of Hearing Aids in Managing Tinnitus

Hearing aids can be a significant part of managing tinnitus symptoms. They work in two primary ways:

  • Amplification of External Sounds: Hearing aids increase the amount of external stimuli, which helps mask the tinnitus sounds. This increase in the number of sounds makes the tinnitus symptoms less noticeable, allowing the brain to focus more readily on the sounds in front of the individual.
  • Tinnitus Programs: Many of today's hearing aids come with built-in tinnitus features or programs. These programs help mask the intrusive tinnitus with soothing or neutral sounds, again relegating the actual tinnitus noise to the background. Some hearing aids have dedicated mobile apps that provide additional sounds and relaxation techniques.

Several hearing aid manufacturers offer proprietary programs to manage tinnitus:

  • Widex's Zen therapy technology generates fractal tones that help distract from tinnitus. 
  • Phonak's Tinnitus Balance Portfolio aims to train the brain to perceive tinnitus noise as mere background noise. 
  • Oticon's Tinnitus SoundSupport includes built-in tinnitus control technology.
  • Starkey's Multiflex Tinnitus Technology provides wearers with a bank of soothing sounds.
  • Signia's Notch Therapy is a scientifically validated approach to tinnitus treatment, particularly beneficial for tonal tinnitus.

It's important to note that while hearing aids can help manage tinnitus symptoms, they do not cure the condition. However, many people with tinnitus find that the benefits of hearing aids in managing their symptoms allow them to continue living their life as they see fit.

In conclusion, if you're experiencing tinnitus, it's always best to consult an audiologist who understands both tinnitus and hearing aids. They can recommend options that best suit your individual circumstances.