Do you struggle with tinnitus? Are you in need of finding a pair of hearing aids specifically for your condition? In this article, we discuss what tinnitus is, it causes, how it’s treated, and the best hearing aids for tinnitus you can purchase today.
What is Tinnitus?
Tinnitus is any kind of noise a person hears that is not present in the environment or attributable to an external source. It is often described as a ringing, roaring, humming, or buzzing, but others experience more melodic forms. It is normal to have transient episodes of tinnitus, either following exposure to loud noise (such as attending a concert) or simply out of the blue. Some individuals, though, experience constant tinnitus, which can be quite distracting and bothersome.
The most common cause of tinnitus is hearing loss, though other causes include certain medications, stress, head trauma, excessive ear wax, or some medical conditions. It is estimated that about 10-15% of the population experiences constant tinnitus, and at least 80% of those individuals also have some measurable degree of hearing loss.
Tinnitus has been linked to the limbic system of the brain, meaning that it is highly correlated to your emotional state. Simply put, the more you focus on or stress about your tinnitus, the worse it gets. For this reason, a common recommendation for people who suffer from tinnitus is to avoid being in complete quiet because that is when the tinnitus is most noticeable. For some people, this means putting music on while they work or sleeping with a sound machine. Any other actions you can take to distract yourself from the tinnitus or, at the very least, lower your stress response to it will be beneficial.
What Causes Tinnitus, and How is it Treated?
Because the most common cause of tinnitus is hearing loss, a very typical recommendation is to try some of the best hearing aids for tinnitus options available in the market first. Often introducing amplification, particularly in the high-frequency sounds that the patient has likely been missing, is enough to compensate for the tinnitus.
Patients who suffer from noise-induced hearing loss, for example, typically present with a very specific pattern of their hearing loss, and it is very common for this group to report tinnitus in addition to their hearing difficulties. Often a binaural hearing aid fitting is enough to provide both better hearing and tinnitus relief, though many will still rely on a sound machine for sleep when their hearing aids have been removed.
Some hearing aid manufacturers do offer specific programs for tinnitus, which involve playing a low-level sound through the hearing aids in addition to the prescribed amount of gain. This low-level sound, which could be anything from static to a melody, is referred to as a “tinnitus masker” because it is something additional that is perceived as less bothersome and easier to ignore than the tinnitus itself.
It can take some trial and error to determine what tinnitus masker is the most effective. Some audiologists who are specifically trained in addressing tinnitus will work with you to “pitch match” your tinnitus, meaning they will try to identify what your tinnitus sounds like to you in terms of frequency and intensity. From there, they can work with you to listen to different tinnitus masking options to see which are effective at blocking out the tinnitus and which are suitable to listen to during the time when your tinnitus is the most bothersome (which might be all day!) The audiologist may also have you complete a survey, such as the Tinnitus Handicap Inventory (THI), to determine what subjective impact your tinnitus is having on your daily life. This can be repeated after a hearing aid fitting to determine which areas, if any, need improvement.
What Are The Best Hearing Aids For Tinnitus?
There is a good possibility that introducing any amplification when you are suffering from both hearing loss and tinnitus will alleviate both to some extent. That said, there may be certain hearing aids that are more successful than others depending on your lifestyle, hearing needs, tinnitus severity, and aesthetic preferences. Here are ten of the top recommendations for hearing aids for people with tinnitus.
The newest hearing aids from Phonak are suitable for mild to profound hearing loss and are a receiver-in-the-ear (RITE) style that is comfortable and discrete, as well as rechargeable. They have very seamless streaming capabilities, with easy Bluetooth connectivity to any device (not just Apple or Android). The Phonak Tinnitus Balance feature, a sound generator that can be used as a tinnitus masker in conjunction with other tinnitus relief techniques, is available at all technology levels.
The Phonak Lyric is a completely invisible hearing aid that is placed in the ear canal by a specially trained audiologist. It is worn 24 hours a day, seven days a week, for months at a time. Lyric uses a subscription model, where the patient pays for one or two years of Lyric at a time and visits the audiologist to have the devices replaced when needed. Phonak Lyric hearing aids can accommodate mild to moderately severe hearing loss. However, it does lack many of the noise reduction and directional microphone features of traditional hearing aids simply because the entire device is inside the ear canal. That said, for patients who suffer from severe tinnitus, this style can be ideal because the devices stay on all the time, including during sleep.
Affordable Alternative to Phonak Lyric: Phonak Virto Paradise
The newest hearing aid from Oticon is available in receiver-in-the-ear (RITE) or behind-the-ear (BTE) styles and is suitable for mild to profound hearing loss. There are rechargeable models as well as streaming from Apple products and some Android devices. The Oticon Tinnitus SoundSupport feature is available in all technology levels, and the masking noise can be manually adjusted by the patient in Oticon’s proprietary app.
GN ReSound has created the ReSound Relief app, which is available in the Apple app store or the Google Play store for Android. It can be used by any person suffering from tinnitus, not just hearing aid users. The app allows you to customize your tinnitus masker by layering up to five different sounds, which you can balance between ears and set to a timer if needed. Though you do not need to have hearing aids to use the app, you could stream the soundscapes via the ReSound ONE hearing aids, which allow for streaming from Apple devices and certain Android devices. The ReSound ONE, available in a receiver-in-the-ear (RITE) or behind-the-ear (BTE) style, also features a tinnitus relief feature separate from the app, which could be programmed into the hearing aids by your audiologist.
The Signia hearing aids use a specific type of tinnitus relief known as “notch therapy” which involves isolating the pitch of the tinnitus (assuming it is what is known as “tonal” tinnitus) and subtly filtering the audio signal around that notch to remove the band of frequencies around your tinnitus. When used correctly, many patients find tinnitus relief from this type of therapy. The goal is to reduce the noticeability, and subsequent annoyance, of your tinnitus. The Styletto AX is the newest model available from Signia and is suitable for mild to severe hearing losses, rechargeable, and offers streaming capabilities.
Starkey uses what they call Multiflex Tinnitus Technology for tinnitus relief, which is available in all of their hearing aids. Similar to other manufacturers, this allows the patient to create a customizable sound stimulus designed to distract from the tinnitus and make it less noticeable. Starkey also offers a brief Tinnitus Test on their website for patients interested in gathering more information on their tinnitus that they can provide to their audiologist. The Genesis AI hearing aid is their newest model, which offers rechargeability, connectivity, and health-tracking data. Additionally, the Genesis AI line is available as a receiver-in-the-ear (RITE) or as a custom in-the-ear (ITE) in a variety of sizes.
Like GN ReSound, Widex has developed a separate app for tinnitus relief that is universally available, called Widex Zen. It offers a variety of different sounds which users can customize to find relief and aid with sleep. The Widex Zen Therapy platform has four components that can be used by hearing care professionals to assist patients with managing their tinnitus: counseling, amplification, relaxation, and fractal tones. The Widex hearing aids, including their newest Widex Moment Sheer, offer amplification in addition to a variety of options for customized tinnitus maskers. The hearing aids are fully rechargeable and offer a range of advanced features aside from tinnitus relief.
If you are struggling with more severe hearing loss that necessitates a power hearing aid, the Naida Paradise from Phonak is a very good option. You will have access to the Phonak Tinnitus Balance technology as well as the streaming capabilities, should you find more relief in streaming music or a podcast at times compared to the tinnitus masking sounds. Suppose you are a person with more severe hearing loss in addition to tinnitus. In that case, you may also talk to your provider about an evaluation to determine if you are a good candidate for a cochlear implant. Often the increased access to sound offered by a cochlear implant can alleviate tinnitus better than a power hearing aid when the hearing loss becomes more severe.
Similar to the Styletto AX from Signia, the Charge & Go model offers a notch therapy strategy for tinnitus relief. It has a different form factor from the Styletto in that it is a custom in-the-ear style but also offers, as the name implies, rechargeability in a quick and portable case. The Insio is the first custom model to allow lithium-ion contactless charging. In contrast, custom hearing aids have often relied on disposable batteries after rechargeable styles were introduced in the BTE and RITE versions.
Unitron is owned by the same parent company as Phonak (Sonova), so there is some overlap in styles and technologies between the two. However, Unitron hearing aids often come at a lower price point than Phonak. Their Moxi device is rechargeable and offers a tinnitus masking feature that can be activated by the audiologist in the software. It is suitable for mild to profound hearing loss and offers Bluetooth streaming capabilities for patients who are interested in using alternate sound sources to alleviate their tinnitus.
Hearing Aids for Tinnitus Takeaway
You might have noticed that all the hearing aids on this list are prescription devices fit by an audiologist or hearing aid dispenser. While it is true that introducing amplification can alleviate tinnitus for some patients, over-the-counter (OTC) devices and personal sound amplification products (PSAPs) are not recommended if you have tinnitus. The amount of gain prescribed should be quite exact for tinnitus management. Suppose you are exhibiting symptoms outside of hearing difficulties, such as tinnitus or vestibular issues. In that case, it is always wise to consult a professional rather than attempting to self-fit a hearing device.
Erin Edwards received her Doctor of Audiology degree from Towson University in 2015 and her Ph.D. in Education and Leadership from Pacific University in 2022. She has worked with patients of all ages in a variety of settings and has a specific interest in cochlear implants, the relationship of hearing loss and dementia, and interdisciplinary healthcare.