What Is Tinnitus? Symptoms, Causes, Diagnosis and Treatment

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Man with tinnitus

Tinnitus is most often described as experiencing a perception of sound when there is not an external source of sound that can be identified in the immediate environment. Although it is most frequently described as a ringing in the ears, it has also been described as buzzing, hissing, whooshing, and roaring, in addition to other (similar) sounds. In some cases, auditory hallucinations have even been reported, including hearing music in your head. It is not an actual hallucination, however, as you might find in psychosis or schizophrenia; instead, it is related to the auditory system within the brain creating familiar sounds (i.e. music) as a reaction to the absence of hearing. These experiences have been called “musical ear” and “auditory hallucinations,” and are most often found in cases of extreme hearing loss.

Tinnitus is a symptom rather than a disease, and can be heard in one or both ears. Most often, tinnitus is a symptom of damage having been done to the delicate inner ear structure during hearing loss, but it has also been frequently reported with diabetes, hypertension, head and neck injury, kidney disease, and autoimmune disease. It has been reported to affect as many as 1 in 5 Americans. Tinnitus severity, which is measured subjectively by the individual experiencing symptoms, can range from case to case. Although most hearing health professionals rely on self-reported symptom severity, symptoms can also be quantified clinically using subjective questionnaires like the Tinnitus Functional Index (TFI).

Scoring system for the Tinnitus Functional Index

The auditory cortex, limbic system, and autonomic nervous system are all potentially involved in the development of this condition, as these three parts of the brain work together to create, detect, and react to phantom sounds. For this reason, many people notice a more prominent uptick in symptom severity in quiet places like offices and bedrooms. If, for instance, you’ve ever wondered “Why do my ears ring when I lay down?” these three components may be the cause. While it may seem to be related to the act of laying down, it can actually be because when we lie down to rest, the room or area is typically quiet. Reduced environmental sounds can allow the sounds of tinnitus to become front and center, making them seem louder.

"As a recent graduate who’s achieved stage four habituation, I cannot thank Treble Health enough for getting me to the finish line."
"As a recent graduate who’s achieved stage four habituation, I cannot thank Treble Health enough for getting me to the finish line."
– Louis
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Over the years, there have been many studies digging deep into the links between hearing loss, memory loss, tinnitus, and dementia. Living with tinnitus often means living with other conditions – even those apart from hearing loss. Although cognitive impairment and hearing impairment are not always linked, this inner ear disorder has been linked to cognitive impairment enough to suggest the need for possible treatments to address both issues. Hearing aids and other treatments like Tinnitus Retraining Therapy (TRT) and Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) can help minimize the effects of tinnitus. Hearing loss and subsequent dementia can be addressed using different medications, lifestyle alterations, and improvements to diet and movement practices, while keeping an eye on prevention. Together, using hearing aids, cognitive interventions, lifestyle changes, and even mental health interventions can successfully address tinnitus and dementia, and help reduce the effects of both.

From addressing needs like “how to stop vibration in ear” to “how to stop ringing in the ears,” tinnitus intervention is typically best handled through seeing a dedicated hearing health professional like an audiologist, to address hearing loss, secondary conditions to tinnitus, and tinnitus itself.

Hearing Loss

Hearing loss is the general term used when any part of the ear is not functioning properly, whether it comes from exposure to loud noises, general aging, or a congenital abnormality. There are numerous reasons why different parts of the ear are not working correctly in tandem. When this happens, the brain cannot properly process incoming sound, resulting in loss of hearing. To better understand how loss occurs, we will take a look at the anatomy of the ear.

Diagram of the structures of the outer and inner ear

The ear is made up of three distinct parts: the outer ear, the middle ear, and the inner ear. The outer ear is made up of the pinna, the ear canal, and the ear drum (also called the tympanic membrane). The middle ear is made up of middle ear bones (called ossicles), the eardrum/tympanic membrane, the stapedius and tensor tympani muscles, and the Eustachian tubes. The inner ear consists of cochlea hair cells, auditory nerve endings, and the semicircular canals, which are responsible for the vestibular system, or the delicate system responsible for maintaining balance. Each of these parts of the ear can impact or cause hearing loss differently; consequently, there are different types of hearing loss based on the part of the ear that has sustained damage.

While hearing loss might cause a sensation of alienation or confusion, it is actually a prevalent condition worldwide. The Worth Health Organization identifies it as a condition affecting as many as 1.5 billion people worldwide, which amounts to 20% of the world’s population. The symptoms of hearing loss range considerably, based on the type and severity of the damage to the ear. Nevertheless, the most common symptoms across the board include the following:

  • Difficulty hearing soft or distant speech
  • Frequently asking people to repeat themselves
  • Feeling frustrated during group conversations, difficulty following one conversation when many are happening at once
  • Muffled hearing
  • Aural fullness
  • Tinnitus
  • Difficulty hearing on the phone
  • Preferring auditory input louder than those around you (i.e., TV volume, radio volume)

There are three different types of hearing loss identified by which portion of the ear is not functioning properly. Each of these areas is important to ensure that sound waves are effectively delivered to the brain for sound processing. The three most commonly identified types of hearing loss include sensorineural hearing loss (SNHL), conductive hearing loss (CHL), and mixed hearing loss.

Sensorineural Hearing Loss (SNHL)

Woman with hearing loss holding her ear to increase sound

In this type of hearing loss, the damage is within the inner ear and all along the auditory nerve. SNHL is considered permanent and irreversible, with the most common causes including age-related hearing loss, noise-induced hearing loss, ototoxic exposures, injury to the ears, or illness involving the ears. Sensorineural hearing loss is typically treated with either hearing aids or cochlear implants to lessen the range of symptoms. The presence of this type of hearing loss can make existing tinnitus worse, or can be at the root of tinnitus development.

Conductive Hearing Loss (CHL)

Conductive hearing loss occurs within the outer and/or middle ear. CHL can be addressed using medical or surgical means, and is not usually considered permanent. The most common causes include ear infection (otitis externa or media), earwax blockages, damage to or bony growth on the ossicles, space occupying benign tumors, and congenital deformity (called microta and anotia). CHL can be treated using medicine or surgery, or a combination of the two. It, too, can worsen tinnitus that is already present, or be found at the root of tinnitus onset.

Mixed Hearing Loss

Mixed hearing loss involves both sensorineural causes and conductive causes, meaning that it affects the inner ear and the middle or outer ear. Mixed hearing loss, then, is caused by a combination of root cases for SNHL and CHL. Mixed hearing loss, as a mix of both SNHL and CHL, can be partially reversible via medical or surgical intervention, but will frequently also require treatment involving hearing aids to address SNHL based issues.

Conductive vs Sensorineural Hearing Loss

Conductive and sensorineural hearing loss are very different in their causes, but can look very similar in the way that they present. The two different types of hearing loss can result in similar hearing impairments, such as:

  • Muffled hearing
  • Ear fullness
  • Difficulty hearing soft or distant speech
  • Needing the TV or other sound sources louder than others around them
  • Tinnitus

Despite the similar conditions they cause, conductive hearing loss and sensorineural hearing loss are extremely different at their root. When looking into conductive vs sensorineural hearing loss, remember the following:

  • Conductive Hearing Loss
    • Not permanent hearing loss
    • Medically or surgically correctable
    • Caused by medical issues like blockages, ear infections, or congenital deformity
    • Hearing aids are used as a last resort
  • Sensorineural hearing loss
    • Permanent hearing loss
    • Treatable with hearing aids or cochlear implants
    • Caused by age-related hearing loss, noise induced hearing loss, injury, and more

Knowing the difference between the two can be difficult to the untrained eye. If you are experiencing any level of hearing difficulty or impairment, it is important to seek out the assistance of hearing professionals to receive an otologic exam and hearing evaluation. These tests will help differentiate between the two types of hearing loss, and any other potential causes.

Can Hearing Loss Be Reversed?

At this time, there is no cure to reverse permanent inner ear damage that leads to sensorineural hearing loss. Scientific research is continually working to develop innovations to cure hearing loss and even cure tinnitus; while some studies show promise, there is no known method to effectively reverse the damage that leads to hearing loss and tinnitus.

Conductive hearing loss is considered reversible, to some degree, with the appropriate medical or surgical interventions. These interventions are used to clear whatever is blocking the outer or middle ear from transmitting sound through the ear well enough to hear. Earwax removal, ear infection treatment, and surgical correction of middle ear disorders like otosclerosis are all able to reverse conductive hearing loss.

Woman wearing a hearing aid

Mixed hearing loss, as a combination of the two types above, is often considered partially reversible. After all, conductive components may be reversed, while sensorineural aspects are considered irreversible. That being said, even though not all forms of hearing loss are currently reversible, all are considered manageable through the right healthcare professional intervention. Primary care physicians, otolaryngologists, and audiologists can all come together to help repair and restore hearing health. This can be done with medicine, surgery, hearing aids, lifestyle changes, or a combination of all of these, to prevent you from having to continue to struggle with communication and understanding as a result of hearing difficulties.

So, as you can see, the answer to “can hearing loss be reversed?” depends on a variety of factors, and is largely dependent on the type of hearing loss and its root causes.

Secondary Conditions To Tinnitus

Woman laying in bed

Tinnitus is not a disease; however, because of the effects tinnitus can have on the body and mind of someone with symptoms, there are some secondary conditions to tinnitus that can emerge. Many of them are related to mental health and how hearing loss and phantom sounds are potentially able to affect mental health. Of the 25 million people who experience symptoms of tinnitus, only about 20% report experiencing severe tinnitus or significant symptoms. What does this mean? Treating tinnitus and addressing it as a whole often involves looking into the intensity, persistence, and reaction (think fight or flight reflex) an individual has as a result of having tinnitus. If the intensity, persistence, and reaction all make daily functional abilities challenging, setting aside time and resources to effectively silence tinnitus (or make it more bearable) is important.

People within this patient population – those with severe tinnitus symptoms – often report decreased quality of life, increased levels of anxiety and stress, and an increased incidence of depression. These are not the only secondary conditions reported amongst people who experience symptoms of severe tinnitus. Secondary conditions frequently reported include:

  • Hearing Loss. As many as 90% of those who have tinnitus also report hearing difficulty. Tinnitus treated as its own separate condition without any hearing loss may not be as common.
  • Reduced sleep quality. A decrease in quality of sleep is one of the most frequently reported challenges for anyone who suffers from tinnitus. Quiet places allow for a greater opportunity for the brain to detect and subsequently respond to tinnitus. In essence, quiet environments can make tinnitus seem worse, while noisy environments can make for less noticeable tinnitus. Consequently, tinnitus sufferers often report difficulty falling and staying asleep.
  • Irritability. Constant noise competes with your ability to hear and focus. When this happens all day long, and your sound signals are perpetually getting crossed, it can be easy to get irritated quickly. Many people living with tinnitus report increased irritability on a daily basis.
  • Brain fog/decreased concentration. Studies have shown that tinnitus can negatively impact cognitive function, attention, memory, and overall processing speed, as well as the recall and retrieval of information. Tinnitus can also increase listening effort, effectively diverting attention and energy away from cognition.
  • Depression. The limbic system (also called the “emotional brain”) plays a key role in the vicious cycle of tinnitus. It is how people react to the sound of tinnitus, and how they feel about it that drives negative thoughts and emotions, effectively leading to depression. As much as 33% of those having had tinnitus diagnosed also report depressive symptoms.
  • Anxiety. The autonomic nervous system, also known as our fight or flight response, plays a key role in the vicious cycles of tinnitus. When people are exposed to new or existing stimuli, like tinnitus, the body can perceive that stimuli as negative, threatening, or scary. The body then reacts on a cellular level to deliver feelings of stress and anxiety. People with severe tinnitus often also report feelings of anxiety.
  • MisophoniaMisophonia describes a condition in which an individual experiences a strong dislike or even a hatred of certain sounds, which may or may not include chewing, general mouth sounds, clicking pens, tapping, and more. Misophonia treatment typically includes a multidisciplinary approach, which often includes a primary care physician, a psychologist, and an audiologist. A PCP will help rule out the likelihood of any underlying condition that needs to be treated, a psychologist will help patients develop coping skills, and an audiologist can develop a sound therapy treatment plan to help soothe the sounds of tinnitus.
  • Hyperacusis. Hyperacusis is a condition characterized by reduced sound tolerance. People with hyperacusis might report that normal sound levels are too loud and uncomfortable. In some cases, the perception of loud noises can even cause pain. Treatment for hyperacusis may involve prescriptive sound therapy in order to retrain the auditory processing center of the brain to accept everyday sounds as normal.

Types Of Tinnitus

The term “tinnitus” is used to describe a broad category of smaller conditions involving ringing in the ears. These phantom sounds must last longer than 6 months in order to qualify for a tinnitus diagnosis. Nevertheless, there are different types of tinnitus, each of them differentiated by their cause and potential tinnitus treatment options. The more common types of tinnitus include the types identified below.

Cervical Tinnitus

Woman with cervical tinnitus holding her neck

Cervical tinnitus is a form of the condition that is directly related to head or neck trauma. The most common causes include cervical spondylosis (or arthritis of the neck), recent head or neck injury, internal jugular vein compression, carotid artery compression, eustachian tube dysfunction, poor posture, blocked cerebrospinal fluid, and meniere’s disease. In fact, 75% of the population with Meniere’s disease agree that movements of the head and neck using certain joints trigger vertigo, which may trigger tinnitus.

Cervical tinnitus can be present in both ears, but is more frequently reported to present as unilateral tinnitus.  Neck injuries themselves do not make tinnitus develop; instead, they create a significant disruption in the brainstem’s structures dedicated to detecting sound, which can be among the causes of tinnitus.

Subjective Tinnitus

Subjective tinnitus, also called idiopathic tinnitus, is the most common type of tinnitus reported. In subjective tinnitus, only the individual experiencing symptoms can hear the symptom; it cannot be detected on a hearing test. Although subjective tinnitus can affect one or both ears, it is more common to experience phantom sounds in both ears in subjective tinnitus. The sounds perceived within this form of the condition are typically reported as sounding like ringing, buzzing, or hissing.

Sensorineural hearing loss is the most common cause of this type of tinnitus, but it can also be caused by diabetes, hypertension, head and neck injury, kidney disease, and autoimmune disorders and diseases. It does not typically indicate the presence of a serious medical problem or underlying condition. It is not usually curable, but typically responds well to evidence-based tinnitus treatments, including tinnitus retraining therapy, CBT, and masking via sound generators used in sound therapy.

Objective Tinnitus

Objective tinnitus, unlike its subjective counterpart, is rare and typically has an identifiable cause. If subjective tinnitus is so named because others cannot detect the sounds involved, objective tinnitus is so named because the sounds of tinnitus can be heard by another person, provided that an amplification tool such as a stethoscope is used. The sounds in this type of tinnitus are typically described as a whooshing or rushing. Pulsatile tinnitus is named for this whooshing sound, which is typically in sync with a person’s heartbeat. Typically, the “whooshing” sound is thought to be directly related to the sound of blood turbulence through the jugular artery within the neck.

Heartbeat monitor

While pulsatile tinnitus is a frequent cause of objective tinnitus, it is not the only cause. A patulous (or open) Eustachian tube can also be heard in sync with nasal breathing, which will stop when a person lies down. Middle ear myoclonus, which involves “twitching” within the middle ear and causes an audible clicking sound, occurs when the middle ear bones and Eustachian tube are tugged via the twitching in the middle ear.

No matter the precise reason, if you have symptoms of objective tinnitus, it is vital to speak to a medical professional with experience in the circulatory, vascular, and middle ear systems. Objective tinnitus is more likely to be the result of a potentially serious medical condition, making it important to look into potential causes in addition to standard hearing tests.

Tinnitus Cure: Does It Exist?

At present, there is no known tinnitus cure. That being said, there are several effective treatment options available for patients to effectively reduce symptoms in order to improve quality of life. These treatments are designed for individuals who have chronic tinnitus and may struggle to fall asleep and stay asleep, focus on their work or school, or function in day to day life. Some cases of tinnitus may not actually require treatment and may resolve on their own. This is especially true of new-onset and intermittent tinnitus.

Signs That Tinnitus Is Going Away

Tinnitus is not necessarily guaranteed to stick around long-term. There are some simple signs that tinnitus is going away, including the presence of tinnitus sounds that do not get worse, the presence of a sinus infection, stuffy nose, or ear infection, and tinnitus that comes and goes for only a few seconds or minutes. All of these can indicate that your particular tinnitus symptoms are acute rather than chronic. Acute causes of tinnitus include things like ear infections, brief exposure to loud machinery, and even injuries that can be resolved. As the infection or injury clears, or exposure is removed, tinnitus should also clear. If phantom sounds come and go for only a few seconds at a time, you may actually be experiencing a condition called Transient Ear Noise (TEN), which is harmless and unrelated to chronic tinnitus.

If tinnitus sounds to get worse, you do not have any of the above-mentioned conditions, and ringing lasts longer than a few seconds or minutes, it may be chronic tinnitus. The label of “chronic tinnitus,” however, is not usually delivered unless tinnitus symptoms have been constant and present for 6 months or longer.

Can Tinnitus Be Temporary?

So, can tinnitus be temporary? Yes! Tinnitus is not always a permanent, chronic condition. There are a number of conditions that have been known to result in temporary tinnitus. Once the blockage, illness, or condition has resolved, the tinnitus symptoms also resolve! Examples of some of these conditions include:

  • Earwax blockagesEarwax blockages are among the most common causes of temporary tinnitus. Rather than using Q-tips to clean blockages, visit with a hearing professional to have wax removed; Q-tips are not designed to be inserted into the ear canal and can actually further impede blockage removal. When a block is present, it is more effective to have it removed by a professional.
  • Common cold and flu virusesInflamed sinuses are common for the duration of common cold and flu viruses, which can lead to temporary hearing losses and blockages. This particular type of tinnitus typically resolves over a period of a few weeks as inflammation from the illness is reduced.
  • Loud noise exposure. A temporary threshold shift from a loud noise exposure (think a concert or visit to a construction site) can cause a temporary loss of hearing. High volume exposure leads to short-term damage within the auditory pathway, which can resolve within hours or days of the exposure. There is some value in exercising caution, however, as regular long-term exposure can gradually lead to more and more significant periods of hearing loss and subsequent tinnitus. Ear plugs and other hearing protective devices are important to ward against hearing loss during loud events to avoid this type of tinnitus.

Diseases Of The Ear

Like any other part of the body, ears are delicate and at risk for disease. Disease can result in the development of different types and degrees of hearing loss and other dysfunction, including tinnitus. While diseases of the ear are certainly not always the underlying cause of tinnitus, they certainly don’t help. Some of the more common diseases of the ear have been identified below.

Labyrinthitis vs Vestibular Neuritis

Labyrinthitis describes inflammation of the membranous labyrinth, or the small, snail-shaped organ of the inner ear. Vestibular neuritis describes inflammation of the vestibulocochlear nerve, which can cause vertigo and hearing loss. Inflammation of either the nerve or the organ within the ear can cause a disruption in the information being received by the brain, which results in hearing loss or balance dysfunction. They can also be the cause of sudden sensorineural hearing loss. Evaluating labyrinthitis vs vestibular neuritis also often comes down to a question of symptoms; one comes with changes to hearing (labyrinthitis), while the other does not.

Meniere’s Disease

Meniere’s disease is a disorder in which the normal fluid within the cochlea is overproduced and floods cochlear structures. This creates pressure on the cells of the inner ear, which damages the inner ear structures and can cause episodic bouts of hearing loss, tinnitus, and vertigo. The episodes caused by Meniere’s disease have the potential to last anywhere from a few hours to a week (or even more), and usually affect a single ear. Each episode has the potential to cause greater damage than the previous episode, ultimately leaving behind some degree of sensorineural hearing loss and tinnitus. This onset may require the use of hearing aids, Tinnitus Retraining Therapy (TRT), and other interventions.

Acoustic Neuroma/Vestibular Schwannoma

Acoustic neuroma (also called vestibular schwannoma) is a benign, slow-growing tumor found on the hearing and vestibular nerve of one ear. This can lead to asymmetric sensorineural hearing loss, tinnitus, and dysfunction of the vestibular system, ultimately resulting in dizziness and vertigo. Treatments for this condition often include surgical removal, radiation to slow the growth of the tumor in question, hearing aids, TRT, and vestibular therapies in order to restore the loss of function incurred by the condition and improve the body’s balance system.

Living With Tinnitus

Living with tinnitus may, at first glance, seem like quite a large task, but living a life filled with health and happiness while having tinnitus is absolutely possible. For many, the answer to living well comes with finding a group of supportive people with whom to talk, while others focus on mindfulness and creating a space of habituation within the body toward tinnitus. For still others, it means finding a treatment plan that focuses on alleviating symptoms and improving communication by using amplification devices. We’ll take a closer look at some of these efforts.

Support Groups

Joining a support group can help create an invaluable sense of belonging. Tinnitus is an invisible condition in which people frequently report feeling alone or misunderstood. Finding a support group can help connect you with people who understand what you are experiencing, and who have perhaps been where you are. Support groups may help reduce stress, create a sense of belonging, improve education and understanding, and foster friendship.

Mindfulness Practices

Thoughts surrounding tinnitus are able to significantly impact how much tinnitus affects mental health in daily life. People who report significant or severe tinnitus symptoms are more likely to report negative thoughts and feelings, including depression and anxiety symptoms. Mindfulness-based interventions aim to teach tinnitus patients to develop a better relationship with thoughts, feelings, body sensations, and even the relationship with the distress brought about by tinnitus.

Mindfulness can practiced in several different ways. It can look like formal training, using Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, or home-based practices like yoga. Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (MBSR), reading, journaling, meditation, exercise, deep breathing, and therapy can all function as mindfulness practices to improve your relationship with tinnitus. Although these are not often considered tinnitus treatments on their own, they can all come together to help improve mental health both related to and unrelated to your symptoms.

Legitimate Tinnitus Treatments

There are many products and practices out there that claim to fix, treat, or cure tinnitus, it is important to make sure you are an informed consumer and only engage with or seek out treatments that are legitimate. Tinnitus supplements claim to be a convenient way to address symptoms, but there is no evidence supporting the use of these supplements to decrease symptom intensity, severity, or frequency. To make sure the proverbial wool is not being pulled over your ears, be sure to seek out evidence-based, research-backed, and proven effective treatments that have been developed with a wide population, with support as the best approach to tinnitus treatment.

Tinnitus Treatment With Sound

Treating tinnitus using sound may seem counterintuitive; after all, isn’t sound the issue at play? The truth is that while sound has the potential to worsen tinnitus, it can also mask, cover up, or blend the sounds of tinnitus with other sounds – resulting in decreased tinnitus perception and positive results. Tinnitus treatment with sound is typically delivered in one of the following ways:

  • Hearing Aids. Hearing aids fill in the void of missing sound created by hearing loss. Filling in the void can help reduce the overactive neurons firing in the auditory cortex, which is considered a key component on tinnitus onset. Hearing aids can help provide background noise, as well, thereby helping reduce the awareness of tinnitus sounds (showing asking or attentional effects), resulting in successful auditory stimulation and improved communication abilities. Certain hearing aids provide built-in tinnitus therapy signals, which can be used alongside amplification to deliver all-day tinnitus relief.
  • Tinnitus Maskers. Tinnitus maskers can provide relief, and are often considered a part of a comprehensive treatment plan. Masking sounds are played at a volume louder than the individual’s tinnitus, effectively covering up tinnitus entirely for the period of time in which symptoms are present. Sounds used can vary. Some prefer the sound of white noise via a white noise machine, while others use their phones to listen to nature sounds, or even music. 
  • Sound Therapy. Sound therapy is a type of therapy that utilizes soft, soothing sounds in order to blend with tinnitus, rather than covering or masking it. This is ideal, as it allows patients to habituate to phantom sounds, thereby making those sounds feel more soothing than frustrating. This can help soothe many of the heightened emotions that can come with phantom sounds, which effectively lessens severe reactions and stress.

Tinnitus Retraining Therapy

The most well-known and oft-used treatment for tinnitus is called Tinnitus Retraining Therapy (TRT). TRT blends sound therapy with amplification and educational counseling to help patients learn to control their thoughts and behaviors, while habituating to the presence of sounds. Thousands of patients have found immense relief from symptoms while using TRT alongside a licensed hearing health professional or audiologist.

OTC Tinnitus Remedies

There are plenty of legitimate, research-based treatment options for hearing a ringing sound in the ear. There are also homeopathic and over-the-counter (OTC) remedies available to consumers. There are currently over 500 products available for purchase in store and online, all of which claim to soothe symptoms. Doing due diligence as a consumer and seeking professional help first can help ensure that money and time are not wasted. If an OTC remedy has caught your eye or is your only option, choose wisely; many remedies do not rely on evidence, do not have any governing oversight from regulatory agencies like the FDA, and can make baseless claims with little to no repercussions.

Tinnitus Supplements

Lofty claims are not uncommon among the supplements on the market. Intense claims like “B12 cured my tinnitus!” and “magnesium cured my tinnitus” are not terribly uncommon. It is important to remember that these claims are not evaluated or regulated, which means they cannot be verified. These claims ignore the current consensus: that tinnitus is not, at present, a curable condition. Instead, it is a manageable one. The most popular supplements with lofty claims currently on the market include:

  • Lipo-flavonoid
  • Tinnitus 911
  • Quietum Plus
  • Arches Tinnitus Formula

Ear Drops For Tinnitus

Ear drops for tinnitus are available over the counter for consumers. There are no prescriptions available that can actually cure the tinnitus, so what are these ear drops actually accomplishing to make symptoms improve? Typically, they are addressing any underlying cause of the condition that has gone unnoticed or untreated. The most common source of phantom sounds is sensorineural hearing loss, which is neither curable nor reversible, and is therefore not treatable using ear drops. These ear drops will only be effective or useful if the condition is caused by an earwax blockage or an ear infection.

Home Remedy For Echo in Ear

Blockages in the ear canal are common causes of echoes within the ear most often following a build up of wax. If the echo in your ear is due to this condition, it can easily be treated at home using the right tools. A common home remedy for echo in ear experiences is an over the counter earwax removal kit like Debrox. These can come in handy when too much wax has built up in the ear canal. Drops, another common option, are typically applied to the ear canal, left for 10-15 minutes, and flushed with body temperature water with a bulb syringe. If the echo persists, professional assistance may be required to ensure the proper removal of all of the wax, or to make sure that the wax was in fact the culprit of the echo.

“Magnesium Cured My Tinnitus”

Magnesium is an essential mineral. It supports communication within the human body by mediating communication between nerve cells and helping the production of vitamin D. One study did find that magnesium can help protect against inner ear conditions by protecting the hair cells of the inner ear from the effects of loud noise exposure. In the aforementioned study, 300 subjects were given magnesium prior to being exposed to loud noises, and experienced less noise-induced hearing loss than the control. Magnesium-rich foods include fruit, dark chocolate, almonds, and whole grains. Supplementation is not necessary when dietary sources are adequate or abundant. Despite the links between ear health and magnesium, there is not yet any evidence supporting the notion that magnesium can be a valuable intervention for phantom noises.

“B12 Cured My Tinnitus”

High vitamin B12 diets have been associated with reduced risk factors for developing tinnitus, although the exact nature of their relationship remains unclear. Consequently, vitamin B12 is not typically recommended as a primary component of a comprehensive treatment plan for tinnitus. Nevertheless, some individuals with the condition choose to incorporate B12 into their diet as a precautionary measure, alongside the promotion of overall dietary health by consuming B12-rich foods such as beef, milk, and eggs. While dietary supplements are also available, a balanced diet typically provides an ample supply of B12. Similar to magnesium, it’s important to note that there is currently no single study supporting the use of B12 as a potential cure or dedicated treatment for tinnitus symptoms.

Tinnitus Causes

The precise etiology of tinnitus is still up for debate. Researchers do agree, however, that the most common cause of the condition is damage to the ear, ultimately resulting in hearing loss. There are other common causes that occur frequently enough to warrant a mention below:

  • Hearing loss
    • Sensorineural Hearing loss
    • Conductive hearing loss
    • Mixed Hearing loss
  • Head injury
  • Ototoxic exposure from medications and chemicals
  • Hypertension
  • Diabetes
  • Illness
  • Kidney disease/failure
  • Neck Injury

Is Tinnitus Genetic?

Tinnitus itself is not considered a genetic disorder; however, some of the most common causes of the condition do have hereditary links among family members. These hereditary links include (but are not necessarily limited to) hearing loss, hypertension, and diabetes. Because all of these conditions can contribute to the development of phantom sounds, there are those who consider hereditary predispositions a significant risk factor for developing phantom sounds. Although the simple answer to “is tinnitus genetic?” is “no,” the reality is a bit more complicated, and genetic conditions can predispose individuals to its development.

TMJ and Tinnitus

While it is not listed above as a potential cause of the condition, there does seem to be evidence of a link between TMJ and tinnitus onset. People who experience TMJ dysfunction do typically report a higher incidence of symptoms. Some research has suggested that signs of temporomandibular disorders (TMJ disorders) are a risk factor for tinnitus development. More recent research also suggests there may be a strong relationship between symptoms and the occurrence of temporomandibular disorders. One possible explanation involves a potential anatomical connection between jaw muscles and the muscles of the ear. When this connection is disturbed, there may be a resulting disturbance in auditory neural pathways.

Can Allergies Cause Tinnitus?

Seasonal allergies can cause the temporary onset of ringing in the ears. This can occur as a result of inflamed sinuses, stuffy nose, and aural fullness. If seasonal allergies leave your ears feeling plugged, or they frequently feel full, you may also experience ringing in your ears. Tinnitus related to seasonal allergies typically only lasts as long as allergy symptoms last, and is not usually considered chronic.

High Blood Pressure And Tinnitus

Can high blood pressure cause tinnitus? Yes! Conditions affecting blood vessels within the body, think hypertension or high blood pressure, can result in blood moving through veins and arteries with increased force. These changes can lead to changes in hearing, including worsening existing symptoms. Hypertension has also been linked to pulsatile tinnitus, a condition in which an individual actually hears their blood rushing or pulsing through their veins and arteries in the head and neck. This presents in a “whoosh” and is often in sync with the individual’s heartbeat.

High blood pressure can also affect blood’s viscosity. This means that blood may be “thicker” as it travels through the body. Over time, this decreases blood flow and oxygen to the ear, resulting in damage to delicate inner ear structures, ultimately resulting in hearing loss and/or tinnitus.

The Relationship Between Stress And Tinnitus

At Treble Health, one of the most frequently asked questions that patients ask is, “Can stress cause tinnitus?” While stress alone does not typically cause tinnitus; instead, it can be a trigger for the brain to finally pay attention to underlying damage occurring within the ear. The human body likes to remain in a state of homeostasis. When something new enters the playing field –  like phantom sounds – during a time of intense stress or emotional turmoil, the body does not know how to react. Many people have tied their symptom onset to stressful life events, which has been suggested to be a function of a neurofeedback loop during times of intense stress, in which new stimuli sends the brain and body into overload and leads to increased symptoms and increased stress.

Stress causes the brain to overreact to the presence of phantom sounds, leading to increased perception and awareness of those sounds. Stress can increase as a result, creating a frustrating negative feedback loop. The loop can be difficult to stop without help. A licensed hearing care professional can evaluate your auditory system and help find a treatment plan to halt this vicious cycle by reducing stress, improving your quality of life, and masking the overwhelming sounds of tinnitus.

Understanding Tinnitus

Understanding this particular condition of the ear can be difficult. With different causes, underlying concerns, and even treatment avenues, people with tinnitus are often just as frequently called snowflakes, in that no two cases of the condition are exactly alike. With a solid understanding of what it is, how it is treated, what patients can expect, and what interventions do and do not work, you can better understand how symptoms and the condition itself function and present, and take one step closer to addressing symptoms and experiencing relief. 

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