Ear Drops For Tinnitus: Good Or Bad?

woman putting in ear drops

If you’re struggling with a distracting ringing in your ears, you may be tempted to reach for any remedy to ease the symptoms. But before you grab a bottle of ear drops to treat tinnitus, make sure you educate yourself on how to use them correctly and weigh the potential effectiveness against the risks. 

What Is Tinnitus?

Tinnitus refers to the perception of a phantom noise, even though there is no external source. Most people hear ringing, hissing, or buzzing sounds in one or both ears. Others can’t pinpoint the noise and perceive tinnitus somewhere in their head. There are many tinnitus symptoms and causes, and it’s often associated with loud noise exposure or age-related hearing loss.

"Treble Health helped me reduce my tinnitus by about 80%, and now I can live my life again!"
"Treble Health helped me reduce my tinnitus by about 80%, and now I can live my life again!"
– Steve D.
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Tinnitus is very common – almost everyone perceives brief mild tinnitus at some point, and as many as 15-20% of the adult population experiences persistent tinnitus symptoms. Some cases of chronic tinnitus can become bothersome, leading to trouble sleeping, worsening mental health, and other stressful symptoms

Common Causes of Tinnitus

Scientists believe that in most individuals, tinnitus is the result of changes that occur inside the organ of hearing, called the cochlea. Those changes, such as the loss of the tiny hair cells that play a role in sound perception, result in auditory brain overcompensation. In other words, in the absence of complete sound input, your brain creates sounds to fill in the auditory gaps.

Most often, tinnitus is a symptom of benign changes in the ears, like hearing loss or damage due to noise exposure. Other times it may be linked to an underlying health condition that may need treatment. Most of these conditions aren’t treatable with ear drops.

Some of the causes of tinnitus include:

  • Hair cell loss due to the aging process. The tiny hairs in the cochlea pick up auditory cues, and over time, they tend to become damaged. Other causes of reduced sound transmission to the brain (hearing loss) may be found in various parts of the auditory mechanism, such as the middle ear, the auditory nerve or the brainstem. 
  • Exposure to loud noises. Tinnitus can be triggered by long-term noise exposure (like working around heavy machinery) or a single loud sound (like an explosion).
  • Blockage. Common ear obstructions like earwax blockage, sinus pressure, or allergies can result in a temporary hearing loss and tinnitus. 
  • Ear infection. A middle ear infection will often cause temporary hearing loss that results in tinnitus. Outer ear infections, such as swimmer’s ear, may or may not cause these kinds of symptoms.
  • Acoustic neuroma. This type of benign tumor develops on the auditory nerve, and may be a symptom of unilateral (in one ear only) tinnitus in some patients.
  • Trauma to the head or neck. Any kind of head injury may result in changes to your hearing and cause tinnitus.
  • Conditions outside of the auditory system. Not all causes of tinnitus are related to your ears or hearing perception. For example, a type of tinnitus called pulsatile can be related to blood flow issues.
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What Are Ear Drops?

Ear drops are a liquid medication that is applied directly to your ear canal. Ear drops are typically used as an antibiotic, antifungal, or pain reliever and can be available over the counter (OTC) or by prescription from your doctor. 

If prescribed, most ear drops fall into a class of antibiotics that are approved to treat bacterial ear infections. These fluoroquinolone antibiotics include ciprofloxacin (cipro) and other drugs that primarily treat outer and middle ear infections. Fluocinolone acetonide oil drops can also be prescribed for outer ear eczema, and drops like antipyrine and benzocaine otic drops can be used to relieve swelling and ear pain.

It’s important to note that there are no medications specifically intended to relieve symptoms of tinnitus. Instead, there are drugs – including ear drops – that may help with the underlying cause of tinnitus like infections, swelling, ear pain, ear drainage, or other abnormalities. However, because your eardrum (also known as the tympanic membrane) is impermeable to most molecules, it is not the purpose of ear drops to treat conditions of the middle or inner ears. 

Homeopathic vs FDA Approved Ear Drops

Aside from prescription or OTC ear drops that have been approved by the FDA, there are quite a few homeopathic remedies available. This kind of medication is harder to evaluate because it does not require FDA approval. This means they lack the rigor of testing or the standards applied to prescription medications, so it’s harder to assess side effects, risks, and effectiveness. In fact, the FDA regularly reports issues with manufacturing standards and widely varying amounts of active ingredients used in many homeopathic products.

There are a number of popular products that the FDA has not approved for use to treat any ear conditions. These products include Similasan Earache Relief and Ring Relief Ear Drops, which both contain a form of toxic mercury, as well as Similasan Ear Ringing Remedy Drops, which contains quinine sulfate that can be ototoxic (damaging to the ear) in high doses.

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Should You Try Treating Tinnitus With Ear Drops?

First, it’s always wise to consult with your clinician before experimenting with any healthcare treatment. There may be other more effective treatments for your condition, which is especially true if you’re considering treating tinnitus with ear drops. 

Ear drops, which are usually applied by a dropper directly into the ear canal, can actually do more harm than good if you’ve been previously diagnosed with an eardrum perforation or have had pressure-equalizing tubes placed in your ears. If used incorrectly, ear drops may even make tinnitus worse.

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While the science may be lacking, some tinnitus sufferers do report relief from OTC ear drops. However, some of that relief is tied to the effectiveness of ear drops to loosen wax that accumulates in the ear canal or a placebo effect. 

Ear Drops For Earwax Buildup

Earwax buildup can reduce sound as it travels through the ear canal to the middle and inner ears, resulting in temporary hearing loss and tinnitus. That’s where OTC ear drops that contain carbamide peroxide (in brands like Debrox and Murine) are especially useful. Oil-based ear drops – including just a small amount of mineral oil – are effective in moistening and loosening wax so it can work its way out of the ear canal or ease earwax removal by a specialist. To avoid accidental injury, earwax removal should always be done by an otolaryngologist or an audiologist.  

Other Tinnitus Treatment Options 

If you’re looking for ways to relieve your tinnitus, there are quite a few effective strategies and alternative therapies you can use to treat your tinnitus. Most chronic cases of tinnitus can be effectively treated with the support of an experienced clinician or audiologist.

At Treble Health, we offer a treatment program that utilizes a combination of sound therapy treatment and tinnitus coaching with our clinicians, mixed with cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) support. Many people find tinnitus relief with tinnitus retraining therapy (TRT).

Bottom Line: Should You Try Ear Drops for Tinnitus?

When used as prescribed for pain relief, ear drops can be a very effective treatment. As you explore options to lower the volume of the ringing in the ears, just know that the science currently doesn’t support the use of OTC drops for tinnitus relief unless your condition is specifically caused by wax accumulation. Even prescription ear drops – which should always be used as directed by a doctor – aren’t great at addressing tinnitus except when there’s an underlying medical condition at play. 

Instead, you may be better served working with your doctor or hearing specialist on other evidence-based treatment options to ease tinnitus. Treble Health offers evidence-based treatment for tinnitus, such as Tinnitus Retraining Therapy, masking devices, hearing aids, sound enrichment, and other techniques so you can create a treatment plan that works for you. Take our short quiz to find out if you’re a candidate.

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