Annoying noises (tinnitus) in your ears is one of the first symptoms of hearing loss. Tinnitus affects large numbers of Canadians and is often a permanent and painful condition that seriously impacts the daily life of those affected. Tinnitus usually manifests as a hissing or ringing tone and it can make daily life almost unbearable in severe cases.
Researchers have not had a deep understanding of tinnitus until recent times and have been able to offer little hope of a cure or help in coping with the painful symptoms. Fortunately, now a growing body of research is uncovering answers. Although there is no cure for tinnitus it is possible to find some relief from those persistent and intrusive noises in your ears.
Tinnitus maskers quite simply disguise the tinnitus noises. Not all tinnitus masking devices are hearing aids nor do all masking devices necessarily help you to hear better. However, many of the major hearing aid manufacturers offer some form of tinnitus masking solution with their hearing aids. These tinnitus maskers can be highly effective tools that will help you reclaim your life and the sounds you love. In very general terms tinnitus masking hearing aids work in one of the following two ways:
- Creating a soothing “white” noise that hides the tinnitus
- Filtering out the specific frequency of the tinnitus sounds
Both types of tinnitus masking tools can be highly effective. So which type of tinnitus masking device will work best for you?
What is a white noise generator?
Most premium range hearing aids use some form of white noise generator to cover the tinnitus. A white noise generator works in much the same was a running tap or whirling fan in your home will mask some of the outdoor noise. These are very specific tones that will help you to forget the irritating tinnitus noises and relegate them to the background. It might be the soothing sounds of the ocean, a gently burbling stream or some soothing music. But they all rely on the brain’s amazing ability to focus attention on one sound over another.
This is a slightly different process to the distraction that occurs when you focus on watching TV or listening to music and shut out other sounds. Signia likens it to sitting in a dark room and being blinded by a solitary lamp (your tinnitus). But when you turn on the overhead lights (tinnitus masker) you find it easier to adapt to the light.
Phonak hearing aids include a Tinnitus Balance Portfolio that includes an entire library of soothing sounds to help you find just the right sound for your specific tinnitus symptoms. Widex hearing aids include a tool they call Zen Therapy to create more soothing sounds to disguise the tinnitus. Starky use a tool called Multiflex Tinnitus Technology. All of these tools behave in similar ways; using comforting sounds to effectively mask your tinnitus noises.
It is of course possible to buy a white noise generator that has no hearing amplification properties. These devices come in a wide range of shapes and sizes. But remember, tinnitus is usually a symptom of hearing loss and so although a simple white noise generator might help you to sleep more easily it won’t help you deal with tinnitus in your daily activities.
Hearing aids with built-in white noise maskers have an additional advantage because the noise they generate is sitting within your ear and closer to the source of your tinnitus.
What other ways do hearing aids help with tinnitus?
Another way that hearing aids can help to mask tinnitus is through amplification. By making the sounds that you want to hear sound louder it helps to shut out the distracting tinnitus. In fact research indicates that some 60% of people will find some relief from their tinnitus thanks to their hearing aids.
There is also evidence to suggest that enhancing the richness of sounds your brain’s auditory centre processes can actually help your overall brain/ hearing health. Many researchers believe this loss of auditory stimulation is a key factor in cognitive decline and the onset of Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia. In fact, current research indicates that tinnitus is the result of the brain triggering the tinnitus sounds in an effort to replace the lost frequencies. In any case, hearing a broader cross spectrum of sounds may well help reduce awareness of your tinnitus sounds.
Sometimes people complain that hearing aid amplification can make tinnitus seem worse. This is usually because the hearing aid has not been set correctly or is not the right device for your needs. Many tinnitus sufferers also experience hyperacusis or heightened sensitivity to noise. Modern hearing aids feature sudden noise protection that will instantly and automatically reduce the volume to protect your hearing.
Some hearing aid manufacturers use an additional type of tinnitus filter technology that works by reducing the specific frequency of your tinnitus noises. Signia hearing aids use a technology called Tinnitus Notch Therapy that reduces the aural overload on your brain. Signia believes that the consistent wearing of their hearing aids with Tinnitus Notch Therapy can eventually teach the brain to forget the presence of tinnitus entirely.
The sad reality is most people suffer needlessly for a long time with tinnitus and hearing loss before they do something about it. But simply putting up with tinnitus can be detrimental to your health and quality of life. You can take this tinnitus test to find out just seriously tinnitus may be impacting your life.
If you experience tinnitus you should visit a hearing professional as soon as possible. House of Hearing professionals are highly experienced in the treatment of tinnitus and have a range of solutions for all budgets and requirements.