What to Know About Hearing Aids for Tinnitus

Medically Reviewed by Jabeen Begum, MD on November 25, 2022
4 min read

Tinnitus is a common condition that affects more than 50 million Americans. It commonly causes a ringing sound in your ears that can make it difficult to hear. Some people with tinnitus might need to wear hearing aids. 

Read on to learn more about tinnitus and what type of hearing aids are best for improving hearing with tinnitus.

Tinnitus is hearing ringing, humming, buzzing, hissing, roaring, or other sounds in one or both of your ears. Most people have subjective tinnitus, where the sounds come from inside their own body, so no one else can hear them.

If you have tinnitus, the noise you hear might come and go, or you might hear it all the time. Some cases of tinnitus are so severe that they make it difficult to concentrate or hear other sounds clearly. 

Tinnitus is a common problem, especially in older adults. An estimated 15% to 20% of people have some form of tinnitus. Tinnitus is often a symptom of other health conditions rather than a disease itself. Some of the most common causes of tinnitus include:

  • Hearing loss from ear damage or aging
  • Ear infections
  • Excess ear wax buildup or ear canal blockage
  • Injuries to your head or neck

Certain medications, like nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), some cancer treatments, antibiotics, and antidepressants, may also cause tinnitus. Chronic diseases like diabetes, anemia, and autoimmune disorders, as well as other medical conditions and injuries, can also cause tinnitus.

There's no cure for tinnitus, but managing the underlying health issue that causes your tinnitus can improve symptoms. To find the root cause of your hearing problems, your doctor might ask you to undergo several exams, like:

  • A medical questionnaire. Your doctor will ask you questions about your health and family history. They will want to know if anyone in your family has had hearing loss, if you've had any damage to your head or ears, and if you work with or have been exposed to loud noises. They will also ask questions about any medications you take.
  • Ear exam. Your doctor will probably want to do a physical exam to check for any visible blockage or signs of damage to your ear.
  • Hearing and imaging tests. In some cases, your doctor might want to do more detailed tests to find the underlying cause of your tinnitus. Your doctor might suggest an audiometry exam or other hearing test to check what range of sounds you can hear. They might also want to take an MRI to see if there's any internal ear damage that's causing your tinnitus.

After your doctor has assessed your condition, they will work with you to find a treatment plan that helps improve your hearing or minimize the effect tinnitus has on your life. This might include removing excess ear wax, changing your medication, or prescribing hearing aids.

Hearing aids have been used to treat some types of tinnitus for more than 70 years. If you have tinnitus and hearing loss, it may be difficult to hear external noises. Most hearing aids work by making the sounds around you louder, which may make it less likely for you to hear or notice your tinnitus.

Some newer models of hearing aids combine amplification with sound therapy. These hearing aids play random soothing sounds to distract you from the ringing in your ears. The sounds they play can also have a calming effect to help you relax. Reducing stress may also help relieve your tinnitus symptoms.

Tinnitus is an effect of many different potential health issues and can vary greatly in severity. It affects each person differently. If you have tinnitus, your doctor will work with you to find the root cause and help you get the individual treatment you need to manage your symptoms.

Many people with tinnitus have some type of hearing loss. For those people, hearing aids can be an effective treatment to improve hearing and reduce tinnitus. Recent studies showed that roughly 68% of people felt relief from their tinnitus symptoms or felt the tinnitus was less noticeable while using hearing aids.

Hearing aids are more likely to be effective for you if you hear low-frequency sounds well.

It’s important to consider your overall hearing abilities and goals when choosing a hearing aid for tinnitus. To help narrow down your options, ask yourself questions like:

  • What sound frequencies can you hear clearly?
  • What sound frequencies are hard for you to hear?
  • Is your tinnitus in one or both ears?
  • How much does your tinnitus affect your hearing or concentration?

Hearing aids for tinnitus are most effective if the sounds you hear are in the same frequency range as the hearing aids. Most traditional hearing aids for tinnitus work by masking the ringing in your ears by amplifying the sounds around you.

Hearing aids that use technology for noise reduction and directional microphones to pick up surrounding voices can be very effective for some people with tinnitus. These hearing aids can reduce the amount of tinnitus sound you hear while still amplifying the voices of the people around you.

Some newer models of hearing aids aim to relieve tinnitus with the addition of sound therapy. While many hearing aids use white noise to block out tinnitus sounds, these hearing aids work by playing pleasant chimes and musical tones. The calming sounds are played at random to prevent your brain from adapting to and therefore ignoring them. Sound therapy in hearing aids may also help reduce stress and anxiety, which are potential causes of tinnitus.

The best hearing aid for tinnitus will be one that fits your unique needs. Talk to your doctor about any questions or concerns you may have to find a hearing aid that works for you.