Most patients with tinnitus also have hearing loss. Hearing aids have been well-documented to provide amelioration for both hearing and tinnitus problems. Some hearing aids have built-in noise/sound generators that are intended to provide added benefit to patients with tinnitus. It has not been proven, however, whether these “combination instruments” are more effective for tinnitus management than hearing aids alone. The purpose of this study was to collect initial data addressing this question.
Thirty individuals meeting study requirements (bothersome tinnitus, hearing aid candidate, and no use of hearing aids for the previous 12 months) were enrolled. All participants initially completed the primary outcome questionnaire (Tinnitus Functional Index [TFI]) and then returned to be fitted with combination instruments. The hearing aid portion of the devices was adjusted to optimize hearing ability. Participants were then randomized to either the experimental group (n = 15) or the control group (n = 15). The experimental group had the noise feature of the instruments activated and adjusted to achieve optimal relief from tinnitus. The control group did not have the noise portion activated. Following the hearing aid fitting, all study participants also received brief tinnitus counseling. Participants returned 1 to 2 weeks later for a follow-up appointment to confirm proper fit of the instruments and to make any necessary programming adjustments. Additionally, they returned 3 months after the fitting to complete the TFI, which also concluded their participation in the study.
Both groups revealed significant improvement, as indicated by reductions in mean TFI index scores. Differences between groups at 3 months were not statistically significant. However, the experimental group showed a mean reduction in the TFI score that was 6.4 points greater than that for the control group. The difference approached significance (p = 0.09), suggesting that a larger group of participants may have resulted in a significant difference between groups. This possibility is tempered by the fact that effect sizes, which control for variation, were very similar between groups.
Results of this study suggest that the use of hearing aids alone or hearing aids plus the use of sound generators both provide significant benefit with respect to alleviating effects of tinnitus. A larger controlled clinical trial is needed to obtain more definitive results regarding the two configurations of hearing aids.
It is known that hearing aids can be beneficial for alleviating the effects of tinnitus. This study was conducted to evaluate the efficacy of hearing aids versus “combination instruments” (hearing aids that also generate broadband noise) for tinnitus management. Thirty qualified participants (hearing aid candidates with bothersome tinnitus) were randomized into 1 of 2 groups: use of hearing aids or combination instruments. They all received brief tinnitus counseling and were assessed for outcomes with the Tinnitus Functional Index at baseline and 3 months. Both groups showed significant improvement in functional effects of tinnitus. No significant differences were seen between groups.
1VA RR&D National Center for Rehabilitative Auditory Research, VA Medical Center, Portland, Oregon, USA; 2Department of Otolaryngology/Head and Neck Surgery, Oregon Health and Science University (OHSU), Portland, Oregon, USA; 3Department of Education, Pacific University, Forest Grove, Oregon, USA; and 4Starkey Hearing Technologies, Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA.
This research was funded by Starkey Hearing Technologies (387001) and by the Department of Veterans Affairs, Rehabilitation Research & Development (RR&D) Service (F7070-S and C9230-C).
Dr. Abrams is employed by Starkey Hearing Technologies, which funded the study. However, the study procedures and data analyses were conducted independent of any company influence.
The authors declare no other conflict of interest.
Address for correspondence: James A. Henry, VA Medical Center (NCRAR), PO Box 1034, Portland, OR 97207, USA. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
Received February 8, 2014; accepted July 2, 2014.