Tinnitus is when you hear a persistent noise that is not present in the environment. The common name for tinnitus is “ringing in the ears” but the actual sound heard can be a whirring, clicking, buzzing or whishing sound. It can range from mildly annoying to seriously degrading the quality of life. Treatment depends on the cause.
Tinnitus is a symptom of another condition. It is not a condition on its own. It can be caused by a wide range of diseases and conditions. For example, temporomandibular joint problems (TMJ) cause tinnitus as well as an audible clicking noise. Tinnitus can be caused by damage to the vestibulocochlear nerve that sends sound signals from the ear to the brain. The nerve can be damaged by ototoxic drugs, tumors or trauma. Meniere’s disease is a vestibular condition that results in tinnitus and vertigo. Otosclerosis is caused by abnormal bone growth in the bones in the ears associated with hearing and causes tinnitus.
The most common cause of tinnitus is hearing loss. It’s not unusual for people with tinnitus to discover they have hearing loss when they seek treatment for the tinnitus.
A quick search on the internet for tinnitus relief brings up a list of herbal treatments and supplements sold for tinnitus. These supplements are usually made up of melatonin, zinc or gingo biloba. There is no scientific evidence that any of these products work beyond the placebo effect. Credible treatment studies are double-blind, and the studies on these herbs do not meet that standard.
Some acupuncturists promote their treatments as a cure for tinnitus. An Eastern form of medicine, acupuncture has gained a following in the West. During treatment, the practitioner inserts needles into various body parts. There are no controlled studies that prove long-term cessation of tinnitus using acupuncture.
The most effective treatments for tinnitus either resolve the underlying issue or manage the symptoms. If the tinnitus is caused by a lesion on the vestibulocochlear nerve, removing the lesion cures the tinnitus. For Meniere’s or TMJ, treatment for those conditions relieves the tinnitus. In the case of hearing loss, the underlying cause is not reversible and but it is highly treatable. Wearing hearing aids returns background noise to its normal levels and increases auditory input to the brain. As a result, the tinnitus is calmed. In addition, you hear better!
Finding tinnitus relief
If you have tinnitus, make an appointment with a hearing care provider. Hearing professionals specialize in hearing, whether it’s hearing the sounds around you or stopping the sounds that aren’t there.