Tinnitus can be everything from a temporary “ringing” in the ears after exposure to a loud sound (like a gunshot or car backfire) that is only slightly annoying to a 24-hour-a-day, long-term condition that causes serious distress.

Tinnitus is a symptom, it is not a disease. It refers to hearing sounds that aren’t present in the environment. People with tinnitus describe the sound as:

  • Whistling
  • Buzzing
  • Whirring
  • Chirping
  • Ringing

It doesn’t matter how you describe it, you just want it to stop. Tinnitus can be caused by many conditions. It can be the result of hearing loss, high blood pressure, ear or sinus infection, head injury, or many other reasons. Tinnitus symptoms may appear gradually or come on suddenly.

Hearing aids and tinnitus

Undiagnosed hearing loss is the main cause of tinnitus. So, it is natural that hearing aids can be used to treat tinnitus. Hearing aids work to amplify sound and stimulate areas of the ear and brain that are not otherwise receiving adequate input. They can provide dramatic relief for tinnitus. When the brain is busy processing signals that do exist in the environment, it is far too busy to create the ghost or phantom signals that we call tinnitus. The results of a recent hearing survey  show that 60 percent of tinnitus patients experience some relief when wearing hearing aids and roughly 22 percent found significant relief. Hearing aids work by amplifying and clarifying noise and as a result stimulate a brain starved for input.

There are also tinnitus units that look like hearing aids and are worn behind the ear to produce white noise. While these devices are housed in hearing aid cases, they are not true hearing aids because they do not amplify sound. There are also white noise models that fit in the ear canal, just like a hearing aid. Just like a traditional hearing aid, the audiologist programs this sound generator in the same way a hearing aid is adjusted and programmed. Just like hearing loss, tinnitus is highly personal. That’s why an audiologist is the perfect professional to help. They are accustomed to individualizing a person’s hearing experience. Whether a sound generator is used either alone or as part of another therapy, it is important to have it adjusted by an audiologist.

Other tinnitus treatments

Since tinnitus is a symptom, the first course of treatment is to identify the underlying issue that causes the tinnitus. If hearing loss is the cause, hearing aids are the first treatment.

Dental treatment may be appropriate if the cause is temporomandibular disorder or problems with the palette.

Acoustic therapy utilizes sound generators such as table top “white noise” machines to mask the sound of the tinnitus. Devices such as fans, radios and televisions can also be used as masking noises to minimize tinnitus.

Cognitive behavior therapy uses counseling to end the negative reaction to the tinnitus sound, and then reduce its perception.

The first step in tinnitus treatment is a visit to the audiologist. The audiologist can test your hearing, examine your ears and hone in on the cause of tinnitus to prescribe a course of treatment.