Airpods Pro Help With Tinnitus

How to Manage Your Tinnitus with Airpods Pro

By Ben Thompson, AuD

Did you know that the new Apple AirPods Pro have features that can help with hearing loss and tinnitus? Today you will learn how to set up the Airpods Pro to help manage tinnitus. If you read until the end, you will learn how one of my patients used these Bluetooth devices to help manage their tinnitus.

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I want to explain the science you need to know if you're considering using AirPods as hearing aids to help with your tinnitus.

The two major protocols that I use with my patients, and that the audiology community in general follows, are Tinnitus Retraining Therapy and Progressive Tinnitus Management. Both of these recommend creating a sound-rich environment during the waking hours of the day, so that your perception of tinnitus is softer.

A simple way to create a sound-rich environment is to use audio speakers or Bluetooth devices in your ears. You can play soothing, relaxing sounds to help manage the loud ringing in your ears.

A lot of people use hearing aids for this function, too. Having devices in your ears is the most common recommendation for how to sustainably use sound therapy throughout your day. And now that you can setup Airpods Pro to function like hearing aids, tinnitus treatment is more accessible than ever.

Bluetooth headphones, like Airpods, can provide tinnitus relief. They may not be the long-term solution, but they can definitely help. When your AirPods are set up to hear the room around you via Transparency Mode, then you are likely to hear less tinnitus.

You can use Airpods to stream sound therapy like crickets, white noise, nature sounds, or ocean waves. That helps to reduce the perception of tinnitus in the moment, as well as calms you down and allows you to focus and concentrate more easily.

Most tinnitus sound therapy that people find relaxing has a high-pitch sound quality. And this is because most people with tinnitus have hearing damage in the high-pitch tones. This is also called high-frequency sensorineural hearing loss.

After setting up my Airpods Pro with my iPhone, I opened up Spotify, which I use to stream a lot of music, and searched for some different tinnitus sound therapy playlists. I tested what it's like to hear the sound therapy streaming straight to my AirPods Pro, as well as the environmental sounds through the transparency mode of the AirPods.

I can adjust the amplification of the sound through my iPhone, and that means I'm going to hear more of the environment. If you are having trouble hearing someone, it would be beneficial to activate the amplification. The amplification can also help your tinnitus. You can make adjustments based on your own needs.

With amplification and transparency mode, the Airpods can be set up pretty similarly to hearing aids. For someone who has hearing loss and needs sound therapy, the amplification of the environment will likely reduce the tinnitus perception.

This creates a sound-rich environment, which is classically recommended in Tinnitus Retraining Therapy and Progressive Tinnitus Management, the two most robust audiology protocols for treating tinnitus.

Tinnitus Airpods Pro Case Study

I want to share a story of a patient who I've worked with via telehealth. They had this sudden onset tinnitus in one ear. I won't go into the specifics of how they got it, but it was very loud, and it dramatically changed their life. They were no longer able to work in a quiet space. They were having a very hard time. It caused severe anxiety and panic attacks.

Fortunately, they had Bluetooth AirPods that they were able to use for sound therapy. For the first month, when they were trying to learn about the best way to manage their tinnitus, they used the AirPod to stream relaxing sounds, which helped them a lot.

They streamed different sounds to their ears, and because their tinnitus was high-pitched, they found that high-pitched sounds like crickets, or certain kinds of noise were more soothing and relaxing. For example, high-pitched musical tones were more relaxing than the sound of ocean waves, which is more of a low-pitch noise.

I've heard similar anecdotes from multiple patients who have high-pitched, shrill tinnitus. When they use sounds of a high-pitched quality, they can mix the sounds with their tinnitus pretty well.

Tinnitus Retraining Therapy 101: The Mixing Point

There's this term called the mixing point. It’s an important aspect of managing tinnitus. There are two factors at play when setting your mixing point. First, the loudness of your tinnitus in the moment. Second, the loudness of the sound therapy you are using. At some point, they start to blend or mix together.

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This is coming from Tinnitus Retraining Therapy, a protocol used by audiologists to treat tinnitus. The mixing point is beneficial for long-term habituation or “getting over” the tinnitus, which results in letting go of the intense fight-or-flight response in the mind and body.

If you completely mask the tinnitus, that's probably not helping you long-term. When you fully mask it, you're telling your mind that the tinnitus needs to be covered, that it's not wanted, and you need to resist and fight it. Instead, I recommend that you continue to hear the tinnitus, with the sound therapy audible as well. That's what I advise to my patients who I work with via telehealth.

The Apple AirPods Pro are an example of a Bluetooth device that can be used to help tinnitus. But this is not always recommended, and here's why. If you have a hearing loss, it usually makes more sense to use hearing aids. You also may prefer to use hearing aids because the battery life is much better.

In fact, the patient whose story I just told ended up switching to a pair of hearing aids, because the Apple AirPods battery life was only about four to six hours. They needed sound therapy continuously throughout the day. They would start to feel anxiety and stress when they realized the battery of their AirPods was about to go out.

I fit them with hearing aids via tele-health. The hearing aids are discreet and the sound therapy is only audible in their ears. My patient found that hearing aids are the only solution to provide sound therapy while they are around other people. For example, my patient uses hearing aids around work colleagues and in social situations with friends and family. The hearing aids provide sound therapy in a manner that is not audible or visible to people around them.

Airpods Pro vs Traditional Hearing Aids

Traditional hearing aids are designed to keep going all day, either on a rechargeable battery or a disposable/recyclable battery. Therefore, the battery life is an important feature for using sound therapy on your ears, and a hearing aid does a much better job at this than AirPods Pro.

Tinnitus needs lasting therapy, so your batteries need to last too. If you have a hearing loss, you probably want to be using a hearing aid anyway, as opposed to the AirPods Pro.

Tinnitus patients may find it helpful to use AirPods as a stepping stone to a hearing aid, especially if they already own some. But if you're considering one or the other—AirPods or the hearing aid—then I would recommend trying a pair of hearing aids, and working with an audiologist who can help you with the device setup and tinnitus management.

Final Thoughts

Bluetooth devices, like AirPods, are designed to completely block your ear canal. That means there's no natural sound entering your ear. Because of that, it changes the quality of your own voice.

Try it right now. If you put your fingers into your ears and block the ear canal, you'll notice that your own voice has a different resonance, and you start to feel your voice in your throat. That's called the occlusion effect. If you're chewing food, it’s going to be very noisy when you have your ears plugged.

Hearing aids have less of an occlusion effect because there is space in the ear canal to let the natural sound in. This is why hearing aids typically have the best sound quality to understand speech, but bluetooth devices like Airpods are better for music listening.

One last thing to think about is that both hearing aids and AirPods can stream audio from an iPhone. But if your iPhone is dead, or on the other side of your house, then the AirPods have no use. It relies on the audio coming from the iPhone.

Hearing aids, however, have internal audio that does not rely on the iPhone. If your iPhone is dead or turned off, the hearing aid and the internal sound therapy for tinnitus will still work. That's another reason why you may want to consider hearing aids over AirPods.

Apple Airpods Pro can help manage your tinnitus and hearing loss. Airpods only cost a few hundred dollars, are very popular, and a lot of people already have them in their ears. Airpods are a low-risk tinnitus solution to try before hearing aids.

Would you consider getting AirPods Pro for your tinnitus or hearing loss? Let me know in the comments and I will respond personally.