Tinnitus & Hearing Loss

The majority of tinnitus cases are linked to hearing loss caused by damage to the hair cells in the inner ear, caused by normal ageing or exposure to loud noise. This type of hearing loss is called sometimes called nerve loss but more technically sensorineural hearing loss.

 

There are other types of ear-related conditions that have both hearing loss and tinnitus as symptoms:

  • Ear canal blockages (e.g. ear wax)
  • A perforated eardrum
  • Otosclerosis
  • Ménière’s disease
  • Acoustic neuroma (a non-cancerous growth that affects the hearing nerve)

You will find on this website that there are also many other causes of tinnitus that aren't related to hearing loss but approximately 80% are and these are the ones that we'll talk about on this page. It's worth noting that 8 out of 10 people with both hearing loss and tinnitus when treated with a hearing aid find that their tinnitus improves immediately. These are facts and therefore, it makes complete sense that the audiology profession should be treating the majority of tinnitus patients. Unfortunately, it's a professional development option as to whether an audiologist chooses to specialise in tinnitus and most are choosing to focus on other areas due to the complex nature of tinnitus as a symptom/condition. Tinnitus UK aims to give clarity through it's network so that tinnitus sufferers can easily find a local audiologist who has opted in to further develop themselves as a tinnitus expert.


How Do We Hear Tinnitus?

Sound waves are captured by the flappy outer pinners on the sides of our head and channeled down the ear canal to the ear drum that moves in sympathy to the sound wave. There are three bones inside the middle ear called the ossicles. They connect the movements of the eardrum to the inner ear. The first bone in the ossicular chain is the malleus is attached to the eardrum and the bone at the other end (the stapes) pumps in and out of the fluid filled inner ear (cochlear). Including the incus in the middle, the three bones act as a lever to increase the force as the energy has to be changed from a particle sound wave into a physical fluid wave. Depending on the frequency of the sound wave one of 12-15,000 hair cells (think of them like notes on a piano) will be stimulated in the inner ear causing a nerve impulse to be sent down the auditory nerve to the auditory cortex where we actually perceive the impulses as sound.

When part of the ear or hearing nerve becomes damaged or doesn’t work properly, this reduces the number of electrical signals sent to the brain. Research has shown that the hearing part of the brain then 'fills in the gaps' of the sounds that are expected to come from the ear and this is heard as tinnitus.

Added to this, if you have a hearing loss, you may be more aware of your tinnitus because you won’t hear as many environmental sounds that would otherwise help to mask it.

Using hearing aids or, in more severe cases, cochlear implants, may help with both hearing loss and tinnitus. At a Tinnitus UK assessment, the effectiveness of a hearing aid to both mask the tinnitus sound and stop the brain from trying to fill in the gaps will be checked and demonstrated.