What is Tinnitus?
Tinnitus is the perception of hearing sound inside the ears even in the absence of any external sounds. The type of sound is described by sufferers as roaring, ringing or buzzing and may vary from soft to loud, and low pitched to high pitched. It may affect both or just one ear. Tinnitus is a symptom of an underlying problem and not a condition itself. Most people develop tinnitus through hearing loss, which can be caused by age, long-term damage from loud sound, or trauma to the auditory system.
An estimated 25 million Americans experience tinnitus (approximately 15 to 20 percent of the population), which causes a variety of mental, physical and emotional stressors, such as anxiety, depression, fatigue, irritability, sleep problems, impaired hearing and loss of concentration. Though tinnitus itself is not a serious health condition, side effects can be severe and cause secondary conditions that negatively impact overall health.
Tinnitus is most often associated with hearing loss and is often the first sign of a hearing loss problem. Unfortunately, most tinnitus sufferers do not seek treatment, believing that their tinnitus cannot be helped. One of the worst consequences of not seeking help for tinnitus is that the associated hearing loss also goes untreated, which has a negative impact on all aspects of life.
Although tinnitus can worsen over time, it can also improve with treatment. Besides visiting an audiologist for professional care, some people look to alternative and complementary therapies and home remedies to find relief.
Alternative Treatments – Do They Work?
Some people believe that using products marketed as natural cures for tinnitus is healthier than seeking medical treatment. Others may already have sought treatment, but are still suffering and are willing to try natural or alternative remedies for tinnitus.
You should always consult a healthcare professional before pursuing any alternative treatments for tinnitus. Essential oils and supplements have no regulation and some can interact with medications you may be taking. Neither is regulated by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) as they are not drugs, and as such are legally required to print a disclaimer on the packaging (“These statements have not been evaluated by the FDA. This product is not intended to treat, cure or prevent any disease.”). This loophole allows manufacturers to make claims of cures and improvement without backing up their claims with evidence-based research.
Following are a few popular alternative and complementary treatments and home remedies sought by tinnitus sufferers. We’ll examine what is fact and fiction for each.
The claim: According to many websites, massaging an essential oil is the best way to help relieve tinnitus symptoms. The recommended places to apply the oils include behind the ear, on the ear lobe, on the outer ear canal, and/or on the neck. Oils may also be inhaled using a diffuser (depending on the oil). Essential oils should never be placed inside the ear canal as they can burn the mucous membranes inside the ear. There are a few websites that mistakenly advise doing this.
The facts: There is little to no evidence-based scientific research to back up the claim that essential oils relieve tinnitus symptoms. The main source of information about essential oils comes from user testimonials and product manufacturer claims, but personal stories are never a substitute for proper medical care. Essential oils have not been proven to be effective for tinnitus relief.
The verdict: FALSE
Unlike many other alternative or home remedies, there have been a number of studies examining the efficacy of acupuncture as a tinnitus treatment. Despite some mixed results, many recent studies suggest acupuncture may decrease the intensity of tinnitus, making the tinnitus less severe and quieter. The decrease in intensity alone improves the quality of life for tinnitus sufferers.
The facts: Acupuncture may have a positive effect way to manage tinnitus symptoms, though more quality research is needed. Some existing studies that showed a positive effect had flaws and were biased. Also, studies often used different acupuncture points for tinnitus management, making it hard to compare the results. If you decide to try acupuncture, be sure you visit your healthcare provider first to determine the cause of your tinnitus. Despite conflicts in studies, there’s no evidence that acupuncture will make tinnitus symptoms worse, so it may be worth a try for those interested.
The verdict: POSSIBLY.
The claim: Although no vitamin supplements or other herbal therapies have been proven beneficial to treat tinnitus, some people try herbal supplements or minerals for tinnitus relief.
- Gingko biloba – Gingko biloba is the most commonly used supplement for tinnitus. Though not proven in research, the supplement may work by increasing blood flow in the ear (reduced blood flow may cause tinnitus) or by reducing ear damage caused by harmful molecules (free radicals).
- Melatonin – This hormone helps regulate your sleep-wake cycles. Some people take it for jet lag, insomnia or to help them achieve a good night’s rest. In regards to tinnitus, melatonin might have a positive effect on blood vessels or nerves.
- Zinc – This essential mineral supports a healthy immune system and wound healing. Zinc might also exert a protective effect on structures in the ear involved in tinnitus.
- B vitamins – Vitamin B-12 deficiency is common among many people, especially those with tinnitus. Very early research suggests that this vitamin may help with tinnitus symptoms, but proof has not yet been verified.
The facts: The FDA doesn’t regulate dietary supplements. Whereas drugs are considered unsafe until they are proven safe, with supplements the process is opposite.
- Gingko biloba – According to the American Academy of Otolaryngology-Head and Neck Surgery, some studies found this supplement with tinnitus symptoms, but other studies have not shown a connection. Whether gingko biloba works for you may depend on you cause of tinnitus and the dosage. Gingko biloba also has side effects, such as nausea, vomiting, headaches and can also cause severe bleeding in people who take blood thinners or have blood-clotting disorders. Always consult a healthcare professional before taking this supplement.
- Zinc – There is currently no evidence that zinc improves tinnitus symptoms. However, there may be a correlation, as up to 69 percent of tinnitus sufferers are zinc deficient, so supplementation may or may not be useful in these cases.
- Melatonin – Though some studies have shown that melatonin improves tinnitus symptoms, many of the studies were poorly designed, making it hard to draw a definitive conclusion. Melatonin may be most effective for helping people with this condition sleep more soundly.
Many other supplements are marketed as tinnitus treatments, such as Lipo-Flavonoid, despite no evidence that it works. Be very cautious when taking supplements, as many can cause side effects and may interact with other drugs you take. And remember that they are not regulated, so you may not be getting the dose listed. You should always talk to your healthcare provider before taking any supplements. Being marketed as “natural” does not make any supplement healthy and safe.
The verdict: POSSIBLY.
The claim: Neuromodulation is thought to reduce tinnitus loudness by reducing the overactivity of auditory nerve cells within the part of the brain that controls hearing portion. Patients wear headphones that emit a series of tones designed to match the frequency of their individual tinnitus tones. The purpose of these emitted tones is to interfere and disrupt the patient’s rhythmic tinnitus firing patterns in the nerve cells thought to be causing the tinnitus.
The facts: The therapy is long (up to 12 weeks), but has thus far shown promising results. Research is still in early stages and more evidence-based studies are needed. Not all participants in the current studies achieved relief.
The verdict: POSSIBLY.
Tinnitus cannot be cured, but hearing aids are the best proven option to help with tinnitus and provide. Many newer hearing aids offer a tinnitus therapy feature. One form of provides soothing sounds, such as calming white noise or ocean waves, which helps distract from the tinnitus sound. Another kind of hearing aid feature pinpoints the frequency of your tinnitus and pushes it into the background. The goal is that over time, your brain learns to ignore the tinnitus sounds. This therapy becomes more effective the longer you use it. New, open-fit hearing aids may also be very effective for some tinnitus sufferers. The bigger benefit of treating tinnitus with hearing aids is that the associated hearing loss is also treated.
Most insurance plans will cover the hearing tests and evaluations for tinnitus diagnosis. If you’ve been struggling with tinnitus-like symptoms and it’s having an effect on your daily life, you can take control and receive relief right now. Give us a call today to learn more about our therapy options for tinnitus sufferers or to schedule an appointment for your tinnitus evaluation. If you have questions or want to know more about our hearing aid services, give us a call or visit the clinic during walk-in hours. Sonora is always ready to help you learn more about the options available to you that can change the way you hear the world around you and help improve your daily life.