Using hearing aids to treat tinnitus

December 9, 2015

utiliser des appareils auditifs pour traiter les acouphènes

Tinnitus is the perception of a sound in the absence of an external source of audible sound. It’s a real problem that affects at least 10% of the global population, or roughly 700 million people. Unfortunately, there is no cure for tinnitus, and no consensus on how best to treat it.

According to the most recent studies, tinnitus is now largely believed to be a disorder of the brain (Reavis and al., 2012). Hearing loss is probably a precursor to tinnitus, but not the cause in and of itself. Researchers believe the lack of auditory stimulation that comes with hearing loss causes hyperactivity in the central auditory pathway, which creates sound.

Using your hearing aids to manage tinnitus

Since 90% of those who suffer from tinnitus also have a certain degree of hearing loss, hearing aids are often used to manage the problem. This is done in two ways: by amplifying ambient noise, thereby reducing the contrast with the tinnitus, and by restoring the audibi­lity of the frequencies associated with the hearing loss. The amplification can activate the auditory nervous system affected by the hearing loss enough to reduce the perception of tinnitus and even, in some cases, restore neuron activity.

Selecting a hearing aid

There are a few things to consider when choosing a hearing aid. For one, many patients with hearing loss in medium and high frequency have little or no difficulty perceiving low frequencies. Ambient noise contains a lot of energy below 200 Hz, and these sounds help to continuously stimulate an auditory system that’s affected by tinnitus. Researchers Jastreboff & Hazell (2004) pointed out the role of ambient noise in reducing the perception of tinnitus, which is why hearing aids that keep the auditory canal open (e.g. receiver-in-the-ear or RITE), are now recommended.

Graphique neurosensiorielle

Choosing a wide-band hearing aid ensures that the frequencies related to the tinnitus—which are often high—are stimulated. Lastly, because tinnitus occurs in the central auditory system, rather than the peripheral system, binaural hearing aids are the better choice.

Several hearing aid models now on the market even have integrated tinnitus management functions that produce wide-band sound waves and ocean sounds. Just another example of the variety of complementary sound therapies available to today’s hearing aid wearer.

To determine which hearing aids are best for you, consult an audioprosthetist.