Can Cochlear Implants be a Tinnitus Cure?
If you can think of a more persistently annoying hearing-related word let us know.
Tinnitus is a “ringing, buzzing, roaring, or hissing sound without any external acoustic source”,1 and studies have shown that it affects between 10-15% of adults2 and up to 30% of those age 55 or older.3 Perhaps not surprisingly, it’s closely related with hearing loss: 85% of individuals with tinnitus also report hearing loss,4 and up to 86% of adults with bilateral hearing loss who choose to receive a cochlear implant have tinnitus.5
And tinnitus is more than just annoying: it’s been scientifically shown to negatively affect hearing. For example, a 2013 study of 15 individuals with single-sided deafness showed that tinnitus in one ear significantly decreased the other ear’s—the ear which doesn’t have tinnitus—ability to understand speech.6
A Tinnitus Cure?
While scientists don’t know exactly what causes tinnitus, current research indicates it’s caused by changes in the cochlea’s nerve activity caused by reduced auditory input.7 So, if that’s the case, then what happens if you increase that auditory input and restart neural activity?
As it turns out, this is exactly what a cochlear implant does: it sends sound information to the nerve cells in the cochlea. And as early as 1976 studies have shown that although cochlear implants might not be a 100% tinnitus cure, they can help to suppress tinnitus.8
Since then the evidence has only increased. Cochlear implants aren’t designed to treat just tinnitus; but for someone with both hearing loss and tinnitus, receiving and using a cochlear implant can reduce or even eliminate their perceived tinnitus.
In a large and recent study, 26 cochlear implant recipients with tinnitus had their tinnitus tested at 1, 3, 6, 12, 18 and 24 month intervals. All 26 reported that they had “severe tinnitus”, which they rated at or greater than 6 on a scale of 0-to-10, ranging in frequency from 500 Hz to 12,000 Hz.9
At the conclusion of the study 100% of participants—all 26 individuals—reported that their tinnitus was reduced and 15%—that’s 4 individuals—reported that their tinnitus disappeared when their cochlear implant was being used. And interestingly, 2 of the 26 recipients reported that their tinnitus was reduced even when their cochlear implant wasn’t being used.9
It’s not just individuals with single-sided deafness who experience these gains. Another study from 2015 included 28 MED-EL cochlear implant recipients, of whom 13 reported tinnitus. Before receiving a cochlear implant, these 13 were surveyed and reported their tinnitus intensity at an average of 48.8 points, out of a total of 104, with more points indicating more tinnitus. After the study the average score was only 1.75 points.10
How Quick Does it Work?
What’s important to note is that tinnitus won’t always disappear right after receiving a cochlear implant. As we so often say, it’s important to manage expectations. What studies have shown is that tinnitus levels seem to stabilize at 3–6 months after the first fitting, regardless of how long the recipient had experienced tinnitus before their implantation.7
Are you a cochlear implant recipient who had tinnitus? How did it change after receiving a cochlear implant?
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- Park B, Choi H.G., Lee H, et al. (2014). Analysis of the Prevalence of and Risk Factors for Tinnitus in a Young Population. Otol Neurotol, 35(7):1218–22.
- Hoffman HJ, Reed GW. Epidemiology of tinnitus. In: Snow JB Jr, ed: Tinnitus: Theory and Management.Hamilton, Ontario: B.C. Decker, Inc. 2004; 16–
- Sindhusake D, Mitchell P, Newall P, et al. (2003). Prevalence and characteristics of tinnitus in older adults: the Blue Mountains Hearing Study. Int J Audiol, 42(5):289–94.
- Hall DA, Láinez MJ, Newman CW, et al. (2011). Treatment options for subjective tinnitus: self report from a sample of general practitioners and ENT physicians within Europe and the USA. BMC Health Serv Res, 11:302. doi: 10.1186/1472-6963-11-302.
- Quaranta N, Fernandez-Vega S, D’Elia C, et al. (2008) The effect of unilateral multichannel cochlear implant on bilateral perceived tinnitus. Acta Otolaryngol, 128:159–163.
- Mertens G, Punte AK, De RD, et al. (2013). Tinnitus in a single-sided deaf ear reduces speech reception in the nontinnitus ear. Otol Neurotol, 34(4): 662–666.
- Arts RA, George EL, Stokroos RJ, et al. (2012). Review: cochlear implants as a treatment of tinnitus in single-sided deafness. Curr Opin Otolaryngol Head Neck Surg, 20(5): 398–403
- House WF. (1976). Cochlear implants. Annals of Otology, Rhinology & Laryngology, 85(27): 1–93.
- Punte AK, Vermeire K, Hofkens A, et al. (2011). Cochlear implantation as a durable tinnitus treatment in single-sided deafness. Cochlear Implants International, 12(1): 26–9. doi: 10.1179/146701011X13001035752336
- Távora-Vieira Dayse, Marino R, Acharya A. (2015). The Impact of Cochlear Implantation on Speech Understanding, Subjective Hearing Performance, and Tinnitus Perception in Patients with Unilateral Severe to Profound Hearing Loss. Otol Neurotol, 36(3):430–6. doi: 10.1097/MAO.0000000000000707.
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