Can a cochlear implant improve tinnitus symptoms?

(Spoiler alert: yes, potentially)

In 2019 research was published which assessed whether a cochlear implant improved tinnitus in patients with single-sided deafness (SSD). Being someone with tinnitus and SSD, this was of real interest to me, even though I knew that in the UK public health system I would never be approved for a cochlear implant without overall severe/profound hearing loss.

The researchers reviewed the results of 13 previous studies with 154 patients to come to their findings, comparing the pre and post-implantation tinnitus scores of the cochlear implant recipients.

They found that 34.2% of patients found their tinnitus disappeared, 53.7% saw an improvement to their tinnitus, 7.3% experienced no change in their tinnitus, and 4.9% had an increase of tinnitus.

The researchers concluded that there was a clear improvement of tinnitus complaints after cochlear implantation in patients with single-sided deafness. They suggested that tinnitus might be considered an additional criterion for cochlear implantation in people with unilateral hearing loss.

Another study in 2018 reported that 27.6% of patients found their tinnitus disappeared after implantation, with an estimated 75% of patients showing improvement in their tinnitus.

What does this mean for you?

If you have unilateral hearing loss and distressing tinnitus you could raise the possibility of a cochlear implant with your audiologist. Obviously, the availability to you, of such a course of action would depend on finances, insurance, and treatment policies in your part of the world, but I’m a firm believer that if you don’t ask, you never know.