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Is There a Connection Between Hearing Loss and Tinnitus?

a woman experiencing slight ear discomfort

Tinnitus can be described as buzzing, hissing or cicada-like sound in the background of your hearing. It ranges in severity from mild to very severe and it can influence your concentration and affect your quality of life. Most often, tinnitus is caused by exposure to loud noise frequently, but it can be caused by age deterioration as well. 

The ear is a complex piece of anatomy. It consists of the outer ear, the middle ear and the inner ear. In the inner ear there is a snail shaped structure called the cochlea that contains fluid and tiny hair cells. When these hair cells die the brain compensates for the loss by creating tinnitus noise. 

What causes tinnitus? 

Tinnitus is caused by loud noises, usually noises above 80 decibels. Tinnitus can be short term or long term and the types you have depends on the noise level you are exposed to and the duration of the noise. Short-term tinnitus goes away after a few days but long-term tinnitus is permanent. 

The condition is caused when the loud and frequent noise damages or breaks the tiny hairs in the cochlea – these hairs do not repair and cannot be replaced. But the brain still has an audio channel open to them and compensates for the noise, this is what creates the background hissing sound. 

Hearing loss and tinnitus 

It is commonly assumed that tinnitus is a precursor to hearing loss but that is not the case. However, hearing loss and tinnitus can occur at the same time, but typically the hearing loss comes first followed by the tinnitus. If you have tinnitus you may also have some background hearing loss without realizing it. 

Tinnitus doesn't not cause hearing loss but the two often occur together, this is because the cochlea hairs are damaged by loud noises and can lead to both tinnitus and loss of hearing. But someone with tinnitus should still have some hearing ability in the affected ear even with the presence of background noise. 

Solutions to tinnitus 

The best solution to tinnitus is prevention because the cochlea hairs are delicate and do not grow back once damaged. Protect your ears if you are flying, working with power tools, or a lawnmower. Anything above 80 decibels should be seen as a threat to your long term hearing health. 

If you have tinnitus there are also some ways you can reduce the symptoms and in some mild cases eradicate them completely. Hearing aid devices are very good at reducing the background noise you hear as well as improving your hearing ability. You might also try alternative therapies like acupuncture.  

Different hearing devices 

There are different types of hearing devices that you can choose from including discrete in the ear ones that aren't visible. Hearing devices today have a range of features that help to improve your hearing and reduce symptoms of tinnitus. Contact your hearing instrument specialist for a hearing test and to get some advice on what hearing device is right for you.