Forbes Health - Can Tinnitus Be Cured?
1/25/23 in Blog Posts
If you sometimes hear ringing, buzzing or humming in your ears that nobody else can hear, you’re not alone. You may be experiencing tinnitus, a common condition that affects nearly 750 million people around the world.
While hearing ringing in your ears after exposure to loud noises is not necessarily a cause for alarm, prolonged is important to address with your health care provider. Read on to learn more about tinnitus, along with tips to help manage, treat and prevent this frustrating condition.
What Is Tinnitus?
Tinnitus, sometimes known as “ringing in the ears,” is when a person hears a buzzing or ringing in their ears that isn’t caused by an external noise. It could be a ringing, buzzing, humming, rushing or clicking sound and can occur in one or both ears. It can last anywhere from minutes to months—or even years—and is associated with hearing loss and balance problems. Tinnitus isn’t considered a condition or disease, but rather a symptom of a condition such as hearing loss.
“Our brains are always searching for inputs,” says Sujana Chandrasekhar, M.D., an otolaryngologist at ENT and Allergy Associates in New York City. If the brain has no other sounds to process, it will sometimes focus on very quiet sounds or, if the ear is damaged, generate its own, she adds.
Is There a Cure for Tinnitus?
Whether tinnitus can be cured depends on the specific case. “If the tinnitus has an acute cause and you can cure the underlying cause, you can cure the tinnitus,” says Dr. Chandrasekhar. For example, if a person is taking a drug known to be toxic to the ears, stopping the drug can sometimes allow the ear to recover. If tinnitus is accompanied by hearing loss, sometimes it can be reversed or minimized by treating the hearing loss, according to Dr. Chandrasekhar.
In cases where tinnitus can’t be cured, there are treatment options available to help manage the symptoms and make them less severe. “For acute onset tinnitus of whatever cause, usually 90% of those [cases] will be so much better or completely gone within six months,” says Dr. Chandrasekhar.
Diagnosing the cause of tinnitus varies in difficulty depending on the severity of the specific case. Tinnitus can be caused by a variety of factors, many of which are also common causes for hearing loss, such as noise exposure or infection. In addition, tinnitus can be caused by jaw problems or a narrowed artery or vein.
To diagnose a person with tinnitus, a health care provider, audiologist or hearing specialist inquires about a person’s health history—including any trauma, exposure to loud noises, family history of tinnitus, and whether they’re taking any drugs that may affect hearing.
Next, a head and neck examination may uncover an injury or blockage and analyze the function of the temporomandibular joint (TMJ) part of the jaw, which can cause pain and produce a clicking sound when a person chews. Muscular tension around the ear can make the tinnitus “shriek” if the issue is related to a TMJ problem, says Dr. Chandrasekhar.
Your doctor may also perform a hearing test and measure your ear function, as well as assess your cognitive abilities and levels of anxiety or distress. Depending on their findings, they may order imaging to help diagnose the cause.
Treatment options for tinnitus depend on the diagnosis and severity of the case.
Addressing Medical Issues
If you are taking an ototoxic drug (a drug that can be toxic to hearing health), your health care provider may recommend stopping treatment and replacing the drug with a less toxic one. If blood vessel issues or a tumor is diagnosed as the cause of a person’s tinnitus, treatment for the underlying problem may alleviate symptoms.
Trying Hearing Aids
Tinnitus hearing aids can help diminish symptoms of tinnitus, especially for age-related hearing loss or cases where the brain is trying to fill a void in sound, says Dr. Chandrasekhar. “Putting hearing aids in to bring those sounds back is very beneficial for both the hearing loss and the tinnitus,” she says, explaining that these sorts of boosted sounds can occupy space so the brain doesn’t continue searching for signals.
Making Lifestyle Adjustments
Give your ears time to adjust from noisy areas to quiet ones, advises Dr. Hamidi. Avoiding tinnitus irritants such as nicotine, caffeine, alcohol, sugar, and dehydration may help ease symptoms as well. In some cases, adding vitamin B12 and other bioflavonoids to your diet or supplement regimen have been found to be helpful for tinnitus.
Retraining Your Brain
In some cases, tinnitus can be masked with soothing sounds produced by a fan, an air conditioner or other white noise machine. There are several free apps that provide tools and sounds for tinnitus masking. These tools can help train the brain to focus on the external soothing sounds instead of the buzzing or ringing caused by tinnitus. “Tinnitus retraining therapy is an amazing solution for many individuals with tinnitus,” says Dr. Hamidi.
Alternative treatments, such as acupuncture, have proven effective for treating tinnitus, says Dr. Chandrasekhar.
Cognitive behavior therapies (CBT) can also help people cope with some of the side effects of tinnitus, which can include depression, anxiety and cognitive decline.
The American Tinnitus Association offers resources for people with tinnitus, including tinnitus-certified health care providers, says Dr. Hamidi. In addition to audiologists, certain therapists and primary care providers can potentially offer treatment for tinnitus and its symptoms—or at least help point you in the right direction.
When to See a Doctor
If you experience symptoms of tinnitus, such as a consistent buzzing, humming or ringing in one or both ears, speak to your health care provider.
When you meet with your doctor, consider asking the following questions to ensure you receive the best possible care:
- What is the cause of my tinnitus?
- How likely is it to go away in six months?
- I also have hearing loss or balance issues; are they related to my tinnitus?
- Will a hearing aid help my tinnitus?
- What foods can I eat or avoid to prevent or improve my tinnitus?
- What lifestyle changes will help improve my tinnitus?
- How can I get better sleep?
- What strategies will help me live with tinnitus?
Regardless of your symptoms, it’s important to have an honest conversation with your health care provider about your tinnitus symptoms and needs. Even if your tinnitus cannot be entirely cured, there is help—and hope—for relief.