by Neil Bauman, Ph.D.
A recent MarkeTrak study revealed some interesting things about tinnitus and its effects on our lives—what we can do to help ameliorate the effects of our tinnitus and where hearing aids fit into the equation. (1)
But first, some background on tinnitus. Tinnitus—ringing in the ears—affects a LOT of people— somewhere between 30 and 50 million people in the USA alone.
The older we get, the more likely we are to experience tinnitus. (1) For example:
|Age (years)||Incidence of Tinnitus|
|18 – 34||3.4%|
|35 – 44||8.6%|
|45 – 54||13.9%|
|55 – 64||20.6%|
Notice that by the time people reach 55, at least one person in five has tinnitus. This rises to one person in four for seniors. That’s a lot of people living their lives listening to the phantom racket we call tinnitus.
Tinnitus affects the quality of life for many people. A study of 3,431 people with tinnitus (1) revealed:
|Quality of Life Issues||% Affected|
|Adversely affected ability to hear||39%|
|Had trouble concentrating||26%|
|Had difficulty sleeping||20%|
|Adversely affected leisure activities||12%|
|Adversely affected personal relationships||12%|
|Adversely affected emotional/mental health||12%|
|Adversely affected ability to work||7%|
(Note: these figures add up to more than 100% because tinnitus often affects several aspects of a person’s life at the same time.)
The good news is that almost half of the people with tinnitus report it does not affect their lives at all. Basically, they just ignore their tinnitus and live happy and fulfilled lives in spite of the racket in their ears. I’m one of these. Sure, sometimes I wish my tinnitus wasn’t there, but I choose to ignore the constant tinnitus I experience and live my life as though it didn’t exist.
That’s a bit of background on tinnitus. Now, let’s look at how we can help bring our tinnitus under control. One of the treatments that few people apparently consider to help bring their tinnitus under control is simply getting and wearing properly-fitted hearing aids.
In a study of 1,314 people with tinnitus, 52.4% found that wearing hearing aids didn’t make any difference to their tinnitus. That’s the bad news. However, looking at it the other way, the good news is that if you have tinnitus you have approximately a 50-50 chance that wearing hearing aids will help reduce the impact of your tinnitus. Any treatment that has a 50% chance of helping you is definitely worthwhile trying!
Here’s a note of caution: If you have tinnitus, you still have to be careful when wearing hearing aids because the above study further revealed that 4.2% of the people with tinnitus found that wearing hearing aids actually made their tinnitus worse. If you are one of these unfortunate people, you need to keep the volume on your hearing aids set to a level that doesn’t provoke your tinnitus. If that won’t work, you probably should not wear hearing aids.
However, the good news is that 43.5% of the people found that wearing hearing aids helped mitigate the effects of their tinnitus. Here’s the break-down of the results: 15.7% of these people reported a mild reduction in their tinnitus; 14.1% reported a moderate reduction in their tinnitus; and the really good news was that 13.7% reported a significant reduction in their tinnitus. (1)
How often did this reduction of tinnitus occur when wearing hearing aids? Of the 553 people that reported an improvement in their tinnitus when wearing their hearing aids, here’s the break down:
|Frequency of Improvement||% of time|
|Improvement most of the time||37.6%|
|Improvement all of the time||25.6%|
Notice that almost 2 out of 3 people reported that wearing their hearing aids gave them reduced tinnitus most or all of the time! That’s impressive for any tinnitus treatment.
Now here’s the best news of all. 3.4% reported that the improvement in their tinnitus continued even when they took their hearing aids off! (1)
With results like these, if you are bothered by your tinnitus and you have some degree of hearing loss, you owe it to yourself to try hearing aids and see whether they will help your tinnitus too.
This study also looked at the various things people tried in order to reduce their tinnitus. Of the 3,473 people in this study—all of whom had tinnitus—notice that only a miniscule 6.1% tried wearing hearing aids in an attempt to reduce their tinnitus. This shows how foreign it is to people’s thinking that hearing aids are an effective way to help control tinnitus. Now that you know the truth, don’t make the same mistake.
Here’s the break-down of the various ways people tried to reduce their tinnitus.
|Tinnitus “Treatment”||% Tried|
|Herbs & dietary supplements||6.8%|
|Wearing hearing aids||6.1%|
|Counseling from hearing health professionals||5.9%|
|Asked doctor for drugs||4.8%|
|Listening to music||3.4%|
|Sound generators—non-wearable (fans)||1.2%|
|Sound generators—wearable (white noise)||1.0%|
Notice the low percentages of people with tinnitus that tried each of these various treatments—the highest was only 6.8%. The total only adds up to 33.9%. Assuming each person only tried one treatment (and this is not likely), this study reveals that only one person in three even tried to help themselves deal with their tinnitus.
Why is that? Could it be that because many doctors tell people suffering from tinnitus that there is no cure for tinnitus, and that they have to live with it—thus leaving them without any hope—that these patients buy into this dismal mindset and thus don’t believe there is anything they can do to help reduce their tinnitus, and so they give up and do not try anything?
If you have tinnitus, don’t believe this. Yes, it is true that at the present time there isn’t a cure for everyone’s tinnitus. Yes, it is true that you have to deal with your own tinnitus. However, it is not true that there is nothing you can do that will help reduce your tinnitus. Do not give up hope. There are many different things you can do to help yourself deal with your tinnitus. Wearing hearing aids is just one of them. You can read about many more in my book, “When Your Ears Ring! Cope with Your Tinnitus—Here’s How“.
Now, back to this study. What were the results of the various things people tried? I have broken them down into three classes no improvement (0%), modest improvement (1-39%) and significant improvement (greater than or equal to 40%). I think these results will encourage you.
|Wearing hearing aids||35%||15%||50%|
|Listening to music||31%||23%||47%|
|Counseling (hearing professionals)||50%||21%||29%|
|Herb & dietary supplements||55%||27%||17%|
|Sound generators (wearable)||71%||13%||16%|
|Sound generators (non-wearable)||71%||9%||20%|
Notice that roughly somewhere between one-third and three-quarters of the people found no help with any of the above treatments. That does not mean that these treatments don’t work—just that they don’t work for numbers of people. The good news is that between one-quarter and two-thirds of the people that tried these various treatments did receive help. So these treatments DO help many people. The trick is to find which treatment or treatments work for you.
Now let’s look at the results again, but this time just zeroing in on the results of the highest level in the significant improvement category—namely 80%+.
If you could reduce your tinnitus volume and the impact it has on your life by 80% or more, that would be a real blessing, right? How many people were so “lucky”? Here are the results.
|Wearing hearing aids||27%|
|Listening to music||20%|
|Sound generators (non-wearable)||13%|
|Counseling (hearing professionals)||12%|
|Sound generators (wearable)||7%|
|Herb & dietary supplements||6%|
Notice that wearing hearing aids tops the list with 27% of the people that tried wearing hearing aids had a greater than 80% reduction in their tinnitus! That’s impressive. (Remember, that only 6.1% of the people in this study tried hearing aids.)
If these results hold true for all the people with tinnitus, then 13.5 million people in the USA alone would find that wearing hearing aids would reduce their tinnitus by 80+%. Millions more would find that wearing hearing aids would reduce their tinnitus by a lesser amount. Thus, if you have a hearing loss—even a mild one—wearing hearing aids should rank high on the list of things you try to reduce your tinnitus.
As I have said many times in the past, tinnitus arises from a number of different causes and affects people differently, thus a treatment that works for one person won’t necessarily work for another. The results in the various (above) tables prove this.
Since there is no single treatment for tinnitus that works for everybody all the time, and since there are many different treatments that do work in reducing tinnitus for some people, you need to try a number of them and see what works for you. If something doesn’t work for you, try something else. Unless you try, you’ll never know which treatment might reduce your tinnitus by 80% or more.
What have you got to lose? There IS something that will help you. You need to find out what it is and do that. A good plan of attack is to try several different tinnitus reduction treatments at the same time. Together they may make a significant reduction in your tinnitus. Some of that reduction may come from wearing hearing aids. Additional reduction may come from using relaxation techniques, and further reduction may come from taking herbals, or receiving counseling or wearing sound generators or listening to background music, or…the list goes on and on.
Based on the above study, if you are bothered by your tinnitus and have a hearing loss, you may find considerable relief from your tinnitus through the simple expedient of wearing hearing aids.
Note that the degree of your hearing loss and the severity of your tinnitus “are significantly related to the level of tinnitus reduction via hearing aid use. In general, people with milder degrees of tinnitus are more likely to experience mitigation of their tinnitus with hearing aids.” (1)
One final word of advice—you need to be properly fitted with hearing aids. One of the results of this study indicated that “people receiving a more comprehensive hearing aid fitting protocol are nearly twice as likely to experience tinnitus relief from their hearing aids than if they received a minimalist hearing aid fitting protocol.” (1) Don’t skim over the above sentence too fast. You need to insist on a complete and comprehensive audiological evaluation AND careful hearing aid fitting backed by real-ear measurements in order to get the best tinnitus-reduction results. When you do that, you’ve just doubled your chances that wearing your hearing aids will bring you significant tinnitus relief.
(1) Kochkin, Sergei, et. al. MarkeTrak VIII: The Prevalence of Tinnitus in the United States and the Self-reported Efficacy of Various Treatments. The Hearing Review. Vol. 18, No. 12. November, 2011. pp. 10-26.