Tinnitus, or ringing in ears, is a condition, not a disease. It is characterized by a persistent ringing or buzzing in the ear that is not due to external stimuli. It can be an extremely annoying sensation that does not go away when external noises subside, but remains constant even in quiet conditions - this is when it is most noticeable and frustrating.
Most people become aware of a very mild buzzing or ringing sound in the ear in extremely quiet environments; but we also become aware of other bodily noises such as gurgling in the stomach or our own breathing. These cases are absolutely normal and are not considered to be tinnitus. And some people report roaring, ticking, whistling, humming or hissing sounds, and these are most noticeable in a quiet environment when no external sound is present.
True tinnitus occurs when the tiny hairs and receptor cells in the ear are damaged. This damage sends false information to the brain, fooling it into interpreting the information as external sound stimulus, when in fact the false information is not due to any external sounds.
Causes of Ringing in Ears
Tinnitus is most commonly caused by prolonged exposure to loud noises. Ringing in ears is also caused by ear infections, injury to the tympanic membrane (ear drum), neurological damage like multiple sclerosis, inner ear disorders, high blood pressure, allergies, ear wax buildup, metabolic disorders like vitamin deficiencies or thyroid imbalance, age-related hearing loss, foreign objects in the ear, and adverse reactions to certain medications including aspirin. Some research also points to psychological disorders like anxiety or depression as possible contributors.
Home Remedies for Ringing in Ears
The best remedy is prevention, since most tinnitus is caused by prolonged exposure to loud noises. The following are additional remedies for ringing ears:
- Avoid loud noises. Be sure to wear earplugs anytime you know you will be exposed to loud noises!
- Limit aspirin use, and be aware of the possible side effects of aspirin and other medications. Prolonged use has been shown to cause or contribute to ringing in ears. If you have been prescribed aspirin to treat a condition, talk to your doctor about alternatives if you develop Tinnitus.
- Lower your salt intake. Sodium itself is usually not a problem, but can contribute to high blood pressure and aggravate Meniere's disease and other inner-ear disorders.
- Lower your blood pressure. This is a common cause of Tinnitus. Blood pressure creates a host of other problems too, so be sure to monitor and manage your blood pressure.
- Avoid stimulants. Any chemical change in your body can potentially have adverse effects - including food and beverages. Avoid caffeine, processed foods (which also contain large amounts of sodium), alcohol and recreational drugs.
- Get some exercise. Sometimes, ringing in ears is caused by poor circulation. Moderate exercise helps improve circulation.
- Get plenty of rest. Being chronically tired can stress your immune system, which leads to a greater chance of infections including colds and the flu, which can result in buildup of fluid, ear wax and bacteria in the ear, and potentially cause Tinnitus.
- Use ambient background noise to mask the ringing in the ear. Be sure to choose music that soothes you, and play it at low volumes to avoid further damage to the ears.
- Visit your doctor for earwax removal. Earwax removal is best done by a doctor to avoid potentially rupturing the eardrum via using cotton swabs.
- Wear Tinnitus retraining device. Your doctor may suggest a Tinnitus retraining device, which is a wearable device that masks the specific frequencies which you hear by playing a frequency that is the opposite of what you are hearing (it is programmed for your specific condition, not as a generic white noise machine). Tinnitus retraining may also involve counseling for psychological disorders such as anxiety or depression, and focus on stress reduction and training you to place your focus elsewhere.
- Don't focus on it. This can be quite challenging, but with practice, you can do it. If you have ringing in ears, it can be extremely annoying and unsettling; but the more you worry about it, the worse it can get. Keep in mind that ringing in ears is not life-threatening; it is not serious.
Try meditating for 15-30 minutes a day - yes, the noise may seem more intense during meditation, but meditation helps reduce stress, which may contribute to Tinnitus. Meditation also teaches you to focus your mind on a specific sound or object (NOT the ringing in ears) and has been shown effective in helping Tinnitus patients as well as those suffering from chronic pain.
Keeping busy will also take your attention away from the maddening noise sometimes. Anything that is a mental challenge, or requires intense focus, will help keep your attention away from persistent ringing in ears.
Note: There are currently no drugs that cure Tinnitus. Some people have experienced relief with antidepressants, but this is best discussed with your doctor as the side effects can be quite severe and even worse than ringing in ears!