For anyone who has experienced tinnitus, seeking effective relief for the condition becomes imperative. The condition  – which causes people to hear sounds that do not actually have an external basis  – can be very distressing to live with, and those who live with it are prone to higher rates of depression, insomnia, and anxiety. As a result, tinnitus expands far beyond simply being a condition you deal with, to the point where an individual’s quality of life can be impeded.

It is therefore disappointing to have to note that tinnitus cannot necessarily be cured outright. Instead, patients are advised to seek ways to manage the condition, in consultation with an audiologist, rather than seeking to halt the symptoms entirely. There are three different types of treatment that can be used for this purpose; below, we’ve discussed how these treatments work in greater depth.

Hearing aids with tinnitus masking

Most people assume that hearing aids have a single goal: to provide amplification to treat hearing loss. However, while hearing aids do indeed provide amplification, modern devices offer far greater capabilities than this. Most notably, hearing aids can be equipped with a special feature known as tinnitus masking.

Tinnitus masking is designed to distract from the sounds caused by tinnitus, usually by playing continual white noise-type sounds to the user. While this may initially seem as if it would be a distraction in itself, it actually has the opposite effect for those with tinnitus: the continual sound of the masking feature allows tinnitus sounds to fade into the background, to the point that they no longer become intrusive or disturbing.

What’s more, many people with tinnitus also have hearing loss; the conditions are strongly linked to one another. This means that using a hearing aid that provides amplification (to treat underlying hearing loss) and tinnitus masking can offer double benefits that help to treat both conditions simultaneously.

Sound machines

Hearing aids with tinnitus masking are incredibly useful, but they do have one significant disadvantage: they cannot be worn at night. In general, people are advised against wearing hearing aids at night, as there is a risk that the device may become dislodged and subsequently damaged. For those who experience tinnitus, this means that one of the best techniques for managing their condition is denied to them at a time when it is most needed; inability to sleep due to disturbing tinnitus sounds is incredibly common, so finding an effective night-time treatment is crucial.

When it comes to managing tinnitus at night, sound machines are a good solution that can be hugely beneficial. Sound machines are electronic devices which can perform a similar function to hearing aids with tinnitus masking features; the machine plays a consistent noise that is designed to distract the brain from over-focusing on tinnitus sounds. The machine sounds are played to the entire room, rather than directly to an individual user wearing a hearing aid, but they perform much the same function; the brain learns to disregard tinnitus sounds and they become indistinguishable from the background noise. As a result, a good night’s sleep becomes a possibility once more.

The type of sound played by sound machines varies; white and pink noise are popular choices, but technically any sound  – such as whale song, rainforest sounds, or ocean sounds – can perform the same function.

Tinnitus retraining therapy

Tinnitus retraining therapy (TRT) employs a combination approach in order to address the two different issues that tinnitus can cause: the tinnitus sounds themselves, and the emotional response a person has to the sounds. Here’s how it works:

  • Tinnitus sounds are addressed directly using the tinnitus masking technology we have discussed above. 
  • The emotional response is addressed with talking therapies, such as cognitive-behavioral therapy or by teaching anxiety management techniques.

This dual approach tends to work very well, as it delivers on two fronts: the sounds are immediately reduced via the use of tinnitus masking technology, and talking therapies help to eventually habituate tinnitus sounds to the point where they no longer cause distress or impact day-to-day life.

TRT can take time; potentially up to 18 months, or even longer in some individual cases. However, it can be a good choice for those who wish to find a long-term solution for their tinnitus while also enjoying the benefits of short-term relief.

Anyone who has been diagnosed with tinnitus should find that one (or more) of the treatment options above can help to provide effective and long-lasting relief from their symptoms.