Woman with ear pain, holding the ear.

Studies Show that Hearing Loss Can Worsen Tinnitus

Now that the days are getting longer, sleep is more important than ever. However, finding a ringing in your ears is not letting you get the rest you need. This may be the sign of tinnitus, a condition in which an individual perceives a sound which has no external source. The source of tinnitus is generated from your own mind, often giving the people the feeling as if they can’t escape it. For the majority of the 50 million people who struggle with tinnitus worldwide symptoms leave as suddenly as they arrive. However around 20 million people report symptoms so severe that it interferes with getting rest and focus during the day. Meanwhile an alarming 2 million people report symptoms of tinnitus so serious that they explain it as debilitating.

While there is no cure for tinnitus, understanding the source of it, is one of the first steps in relieving symptoms. For instance, tinnitus technically is not a condition in itself, but an underlying symptom of a medical condition including over 200 cited conditions contributing to tinnitus. One of the most commonly related health conditions to tinnitus is hearing loss. While not everyone with hearing loss has tinnitus, nearly 90 percent of people with tinnitus have hearing loss. In fact, a recent study has found that hearing loss can actually increase tinnitus symptoms.

The Link Between Hearing Loss & Tinnitus 

Hearing starts in the ears, but the process is not complete until sound reaches the auditory cortex of the brain. This is where sounds are identified, and speech processed. 90 percent of hearing loss is sensorineural, meaning the ears have sustained damage to tiny hairlike cells called stereocilia, which are the sole transmitters of sound from the ears to the brain. When these cells become damaged, they can no longer transmit parts of sounds or words causing breaks in the audio information we can receive permanently. Along with hearing loss, many researchers believe that damage to the stereocilia may contribute to hearing loss. When these cells are damaged, they have the tendency to release a sort of unintentional feedback from the ears to the brain- which is commonly perceived as the symptoms of tinnitus.

Impact of Hearing Loss on Tinnitus 

A recent study explored the connection between hearing loss and tinnitus a little deeper.

This study published in the International Journal of Audiology in 2021 based out of  Amman, Jordan evaluated tinnitus among two groups: people with hearing loss and people without normal people. Of the 73 participants, 34 had normal hearing while 39 had confirmed hearing loss based on standardized testing. The researchers assessed tinnitus across both groups and found that people reported tinnitus symptoms in only three of the people with normal hearing while the group with hearing loss contained 16.

Based on the data of this small study, researchers concluded that tinnitus severity was significantly worse among people with hearing loss, however further studies are needed to understand the sweeping impact this has on us as a society.

Tips to Effectively Manage Tinnitus 

While there is no cure for tinnitus, there are many methods people report to get the best results for lowering the symptoms, severity, and frequency of tinnitus, including: 

  • Tinnitus retraining therapy.  This type of talk therapy uses theories common in cognitive behavioral therapy to address attitudes and reactions to tinnitus when it appears. Over time, the goal is to retrain the brain to interpret tinnitus differently, ideally as benign background noise. 
  • Use ambient noise. Many people struggle with tinnitus when they go to sleep so a white noise machine, a radio or even the TV (though this last option isn’t the best for sleep hygiene,) to cover the sounds of tinnitus. Ideally masking these sounds can help you focus on sleeping instead of the overwhelming buzz of tinnitus. Many hearing aids now come with tinnitus masking features as well, so you can rule it out as a distraction during the day.
  • Treating hearing loss. Tinnitus is one of the most common signs of hearing loss. If a buzzing in your ears is keeping you up at night and giving you trouble focusing during the day, treating your hearing loss with hearing aids is a great way to lower tinnitus symptoms as well!

To find out more, don’t hesitate to schedule your next hearing exam with us today