Tinnitus is known for the ringing, clicking, buzzing, or hissing sounds you might experience. However, it isn’t really a disease itself, but rather a symptom of a problem somewhere in your ear or the nerves that run through it.
People with severe tinnitus may have problems hearing, working, or even sleeping.
Tinnitus that lasts for just a few seconds isn’t necessarily unusual. Something as simple as a blockage can create these sounds, but more serious conditions can also be the cause.
- hearing loss caused by noise levels
- ear infections
- sinus infections
- heart disease
- diseases of the circulatory system
- brain tumors
- hormonal changes
- Meniere’s disease
- thyroid disease
Finding out what’s causing your tinnitus is the first step in treating it. A doctor can determine if there’s an underlying cause, and then address that issue through medications or surgery.
A large percentage of people won’t have an identifiable cause. This is referred to as “idiopathic tinnitus.” While there’s no cure for idiopathic tinnitus, there are remedies that can help reduce its intensity.
This article will explore a variety of remedies from sound-based therapies to lifestyle changes that can help you manage tinnitus and improve your quality of life.
One way to tackle tinnitus is to treat the underlying cause, primarily when that cause is hearing loss. When hearing loss isn’t the issue, sounds-based therapies can still help by distracting you from the symptom itself.
Most people develop tinnitus as a symptom of hearing loss. When you lose hearing, your brain undergoes changes in the way it processes sounds.
A hearing aid is a small device that uses a microphone, amplifier, and speaker to increase the volume of external noises. This can help the brain learn new ways to process sound.
If you have tinnitus, you may find that the better you hear, the less you notice your tinnitus.
One survey of 230 healthcare professionals found that about 60 percent of people with tinnitus experienced at least some improvement with a hearing aid, and roughly 22 percent found significant relief.
Sound-masking devices provide a pleasant external noise that can help drown out the internal sound of tinnitus. There are many of these types of devices available, from tabletop sound machines to small devices that are placed in your ear.
These machines can play:
- white noise
- pink noise
- nature noises
- other ambient sounds
Most people prefer a level of external sound that is just slightly louder than their tinnitus, but others prefer a masking sound that drowns out the ringing completely.
You may also consider using commercial sound machines designed to help you relax or fall asleep. You can even use:
- regular headphones
- a television
- a fan
However, not all noises are created equal when it comes to sound-masking. A 2017 study found that broadband noises like white noise are usually more effective than nature sounds.
Modified or customized sound machines
Sound-masking devices help to cover the sound of tinnitus while you’re using them, but they have no long lasting effects.
Modern medical-grade devices can be used to create customized sounds tailored specifically to your tinnitus. Unlike regular sound machines, these devices are only worn occasionally.
You might be able to experience benefits after the device is turned off. Over time, you may notice long-term improvement in the loudness of your tinnitus.
In 2017, researchers found that these devices were usually more effective than things like white noise at reducing tinnitus symptoms. However, these devices can be costly and are often not covered by insurance.
Sometimes when there is no cure, treatment involves acceptance and finding a way to live with certain conditions. This is true of tinnitus, too.
There are therapies that are designed not to cure tinnitus, but to help reduce the distress and annoyance it may be causing you.
Cognitive behavioral therapy
Tinnitus is associated with a high level of emotional stress. Depression, anxiety, and insomnia are not unusual in people with tinnitus.
Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is a type of talk therapy that helps people with tinnitus learn to live with the condition. Rather than reducing the sound itself, CBT teaches you how to accept it.
The goal is to improve your quality of life and prevent tinnitus from being your focus.
CBT involves working with a therapist or counselor, usually once a week, to identify and change negative thought patterns.
CBT was initially developed as a treatment for depression and other psychological problems, but it seems to work well for people with tinnitus.
Several reviews of studies, including one published in the
Progressive tinnitus management
Progressive tinnitus management (PTM) is a therapeutic treatment program that the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) offers.
Tinnitus is one of the most common conditions seen in veterans of the armed services. The loud noises of war and training often lead to noise-induced hearing loss.
If you’re a veteran, talk with your local VA hospital about their tinnitus treatment programs. Tinnitus retraining therapy (TRT) is another therapy you can ask about that may be helpful.
Consult the National Center for Rehabilitative Auditory Research (NCRAR) at the VA. They have a step-by-step tinnitus workbook and other educational materials that you can look into.
There really aren’t any medications that can cure tinnitus directly, but different medications may be used to help make your symptoms more tolerable.
Tinnitus treatment often involves a combination of approaches. Your doctor may recommend medication as part of your treatment.
These drugs may help make your tinnitus symptoms less bothersome, thereby improving your quality of life. Anti-anxiety drugs like alprazolam (Xanax)
Antidepressants are a little different in the way they may help tinnitus symptoms because they actually may play a role in reducing the problem, not just your perception of it.
Neurotransmitters are chemicals that carry messages about sensations back to the brain from all over your body, and some of the same neurotransmitters that modify sound also play a role in depression.
Gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) is one of the neurotransmitters that helps transmit sound signals.
Some antidepressants work by increasing serotonin, which in turn may suppress the effects of the GABA neurotransmitter and reduce tinnitus symptoms.
According to the American Tinnitus Association, antidepressants commonly used to treat tinnitus include:
There are some behaviors that may help reduce your tinnitus symptoms, including reducing your stress or changing the way you eat. The section below explores some lifestyle changes that can help reduce tinnitus.
Treating dysfunctions and obstructions
According to the American Tinnitus Association, most cases of tinnitus are caused by hearing loss. Occasionally though, tinnitus is caused by an irritation to the auditory system.
Tinnitus can sometimes be a symptom of a problem with the temporomandibular joint (TMJ). If your tinnitus is caused by TMJ disorder, then a dental procedure or realignment of your bite may alleviate the problem.
There are also nonprocedural TMJ disorder treatments that you can ask your doctor or dentist about.
Tinnitus can also be a sign of excess earwax. Removal of an earwax blockage may be enough to make mild cases of tinnitus disappear.
Foreign objects lodged against the eardrum can also cause tinnitus. A regular practitioner can check for obstructions in the ear canal, but if you’re experiencing tinnitus, it may be best to see an ear, nose, and throat (ENT) specialist.
Exercise can have a big impact on your overall health and well-being. Tinnitus can be aggravated by:
- lack of sleep
Because of this, regular exercise might help.
Mindfulness-based stress reduction
Mindfulness is increasingly being credited for its health benefits and was first used to treat chronic pain.
Mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR) courses help people develop skills to control their attention and draw focus away from uncomfortable feelings. It may be useful in treating tinnitus.
One study found that people who participated in an 8-week program designed specifically for tinnitus reported a significant improvement in their symptoms.
DIY mindfulness meditation
If you don’t have time to commit to an 8-week program, you can purchase a copy of the book “Full Catastrophe Living” by Jon Kabat-Zinn, or see if it’s available at your local library.
Kabat-Zinn’s book is a manual for practicing meditation and breathing techniques and can help encourage daily mindfulness.
There are several alternative or complementary tinnitus treatment options, including:
None of these treatment options are supported by scientific studies. Many people are convinced that the herb ginkgo biloba is helpful, but large-scale studies have been unable to prove this.
There are many nutritional supplements claiming to be tinnitus remedies. These are usually a combination of herbs and vitamins, often including zinc, ginkgo, and vitamin B-12.
These dietary supplements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and are not supported by scientific research. However, anecdotal reports suggest that they may help some people.
If you think you have tinnitus, make an appointment with a primary care doctor. They will begin an examination by asking you about your personal and family medical history, as well as your lifestyle and any medications you are taking.
Be sure to mention what kind of work you do — especially if you are exposed to loud noises — and any injuries you may have had.
The appointment will continue with an examination of your head, neck, and ears. Your doctor may also perform some basic hearing and movement tests. At this point, your doctor may order additional tests or refer you to an audiologist.
Some of the tests that may be used to pinpoint the cause of your tinnitus include:
- full auditory testing
- imaging studies like a CT or MRI
- blood work to check things like your thyroid levels
A proper diagnosis can help your doctor guide your treatment for tinnitus, although testing may be needed if another underlying condition is causing the symptom.
Tinnitus is rarely a sign of a serious medical condition. Talk with a doctor if you’re unable to sleep, work, or hear normally.
You should go to your local emergency department if you’re experiencing:
- facial paralysis
- sudden hearing loss
- foul-smelling discharge from your ear
- a pulsating sound in sync with your heartbeat
Tinnitus may be distressing for some people. If you or someone you love is thinking about suicide, you should go to the emergency room right away.
Tinnitus can be a frustrating condition. There’s no simple explanation for it and there’s no simple cure, unless there’s an underlying treatable cause.
But there are ways to reduce the intensity of the symptoms and improve your quality of life.
Talk with a doctor to make sure there are no underlying conditions causing your tinnitus and to discuss treatment options that might relieve your symptoms.