We often hear people with tinnitus say that they find it difficult to hear in noisy environments. They frequently mention noticing this when they are out with friends or family socialising at restaurants or parties. This can lead to feelings of loneliness as it makes it difficult to have conversations in larger groups (not that many of us are currently doing that due to Covid-19!) when there is background noise e.g. music, clattering of plates and cutlery, other groups of people talking etc.

This problem has been explored in recent research undertaken by the Department of Otorhinolaryngology, Head and Neck Surgery, and the Department of Epidemiology, Erasmus University Medical Center who are located in Rotterdam, the Netherlands.

So, does tinnitus make it harder to hear?

This research found that if someone has only tinnitus then their hearing will be unaffected in noisy situations. Therefore, the short answer is no. However, if a person has tinnitus as well as hearing loss then they are more likely to experience difficulty hearing in noisy situations (but this was shown to be only a small effect). This might seem obvious but it supports the primary advice often given to those who experience tinnitus: have a hearing test.

When one has tinnitus in addition to hearing loss, hearing in more difficult listening situations is worse, even though the difference is small. However, if one only has tinnitus, hearing in a more difficult listening situation is unaffected.

Reference

Oosterloo, B. C., Homans, N. C., & Goedegebure, A. (2020). Tinnitus Affects Speech in Noise Comprehension in Individuals With Hearing Loss. Otology & Neurotology: Official Publication of the American Otological Society, American Neurotology Society [and] European Academy of Otology and Neurotology.