A new study published this month in The Journal of the Acoustical Society of America, has uncovered an association between hearing loss at extended high frequencies and greater tinnitus-related distress, specifically in the auditory domain.
The research involved 93 adults experiencing chronic tinnitus who underwent comprehensive hearing evaluations. This included standard testing up to 8 kHz as well as extended high frequency (EHF) assessment from 10 to 16 kHz. Participants also completed the Tinnitus Functional Index questionnaire, which measures tinnitus distress across eight subdomains such as intrusiveness, sense of control, and effects on sleep, relaxation, emotions, etc.
Correlation Between EHF Hearing Loss and Tinnitus Distress
Analysis of the results showed that greater EHF hearing loss in the tinnitus ear(s) correlated with higher scores on the auditory subdomain of the tinnitus distress questionnaire. This auditory subdomain covers tinnitus interference with hearing clarity and speech understanding.
The study found no significant correlations between EHF loss and the other tinnitus distress subdomains or overall distress level. According to the researchers, this suggests high-frequency cochlear dysfunction specifically contributes to patient complaints of tinnitus impairing their hearing abilities.
However, EHF loss does not appear to impact tinnitus loudness or other aspects of tinnitus handicap.
The findings have implications both for understanding the links between hearing loss and tinnitus, and for managing patient distress. Many tinnitus patients have normal hearing at conventional frequencies but EHF impairments. The data indicates addressing this EHF loss, such as through hearing aids that amplify high frequencies, could provide relief from tinnitus-related auditory difficulties.
While further research is still needed, the study makes clear that comprehensively evaluating hearing across an extended frequency range is important for tinnitus patients. Since standard clinical testing only covers up to 8 kHz, significant EHF damage can be missed. Patients reporting tinnitus interfering with hearing should undergo expanded high-frequency audiometry.
The findings suggest that addressing high-frequency cochlear dysfunction, particularly through interventions like hearing aids that amplify high frequencies, may alleviate tinnitus-related auditory difficulties without affecting tinnitus loudness or other aspects of tinnitus handicap. This insight could have implications for both understanding the relationship between hearing loss and tinnitus and effectively managing patient distress.
- Waechter, S; Brännström, J. (2023) Magnitude of extended high frequency hearing loss associated with auditory related tinnitus distress, when controlling for magnitude of hearing loss at standard frequencies. J. Acoust. Soc. Am. 154, 2821–2827. https://doi.org/10.1121/10.0022255