Many people think of hearing aids as assistive devices to correct hearing loss. That’s a logical and obvious connection. If you’re newly diagnosed as hearing impaired, however, it’s possible that it’s not the loss of volume that brought you to an ear, nose, and throat specialist, but rather tinnitus, often called ringing in your ears.
Tinnitus is very frequently connected with hearing loss. That is, if you experience the phantom sounds of tinnitus, you likely also have some degree of hearing loss. Tinnitus isn’t a condition. It’s a symptom that often accompanies hearing loss, but it may also be due to ear damage or problems with your circulatory system. It’s not a sign of more serious complications, but for some, it can range from distracting to distressing.
The properties of tinnitus
When you hear sounds in the absence of external sound sources, you have tinnitus. While it’s synonymous with the phrase “ringing in the ears,” that’s somewhat misleading, since the sounds you hear may have a very wide range. Ringing is common, but tinnitus sounds may also be described as:
- “Seashell” sounds
It’s also possible that you have more than one sound. You may sense sounds in one ear or both, and they can be of any frequency range. Sounds may be intermittent or constant. Sometimes, they can seem so loud you’re unable to concentrate on much else.
Most cases are called subjective tinnitus, since only you can hear the sounds. In very rare cases, objective tinnitus results from blood vessel, middle ear, or muscle contractions, and a doctor can detect the sounds that you hear.
Hearing aids and their role in treating tinnitus
It’s common, particularly with age-related hearing loss, to lose hearing gradually. Your world becomes quieter, but at a pace that’s so slow you’re not aware it’s happening. As you grow accustomed to external sounds becoming quieter, low-level tinnitus sounds are easier to detect.
Think of the sounds of your home when the television is on. When you turn it off, you may become aware of the refrigerator humming, or the sounds of traffic outside. These were masked by the soundtracks of the shows and commercials you were watching earlier.
Similarly, being fitted with hearing aids programmed for your particular hearing loss boosts the volume of external sounds so that they mask your tinnitus, the same way your television masked low-priority background sounds. When your hearing loss is in frequencies similar to your tinnitus sounds, the effects can be quite dramatic.
As external sounds are raised above the tinnitus noise floor, your brain kicks into action, sorting sounds by priority. More sound means more sorting, and it’s thought that this stimulation may actually change the auditory pathways in your brain, favoring environmental sounds over tinnitus noise.
Of course, hearing aids also bolster your ability to perceive and communicate with the world in ways you may have forgotten. The frustration of living in a quiet world with nonstop tinnitus is often relieved with the ability to discern sounds and follow conversations more effectively.
Hearing aids offer a strong one-two combination for treating both hearing loss and tinnitus. If you’re bothered by either problem, it’s time to call the experts at any of the five locations of Lakeshore Ear, Nose and Throat Center. They can examine, test, diagnose, and prescribe hearing aids that match your unique needs. Call or click today.