Objectives: (1) To assess the subjective tinnitus perception of patients with audiologically proven hearing loss presenting to a tinnitus clinic, both before and after hearing aid provision; (2) to investigate subjective tinnitus perception in patients with unilateral and bilateral hearing loss; and (3) to assess the impact on tinnitus perception, if any, of a digital hearing aid programme in patients provided with hearing aids.
Design: Prospective data collection for patients attending a tinnitus clinic over a 25-year period (1980-2004).
Setting: University teaching hospital otolaryngology department.
Participants: A total of 2153 consecutive patients attending a consultant-delivered specialist tinnitus clinic.
Main outcomes measures: A visual analogue scale was used to assess the degree of tinnitus perception improvement, if any, comparing before versus after unilateral or bilateral aiding (in those with audiometrically proven hearing loss). A further assessment compared the effect of digital hearing aid programme introduction on symptomatic tinnitus perception in patients provided with unilateral or bilateral aids.
Results: A total of 1440 patients were given hearing aids (826 unilateral and 614 bilateral). There was little difference in tinnitus perception, comparing overall aiding results in unilaterally or bilaterally aided patients. Overall, 554 (67 per cent) of unilaterally aided patients and 424 (69 per cent) of bilaterally aided patients reported some improvement in their tinnitus perception following aiding. There was a statistically significant improvement in tinnitus perception, comparing analogue aids with digital hearing aids, following introduction of a digital hearing aid programme in 2000, in both unilaterally (p < 0.001) and bilaterally (p < 0.001) aided patients.
Conclusions: Provision of hearing aids in patients with audiometrically demonstrable hearing loss can play a very important part in tinnitus control. The additional improvement in tinnitus control observed following introduction of programmable digital aids had a summative effect in the management of these patients.