Tinnitus is characterized as perceived ringing sounds in one or both ears. The ringing is not a sound shared with nearby people. Tinnitus is a symptom resultant of underlying conditions, such as hearing loss caused by age, ear injury, or a disorder of the circulatory system.1 The ringing sounds in ears is not the same for everyone, and the type of noise perceived will vary based on the underlying condition and patient-to-patient. Ringing, buzzing, roaring, clicking, or hissing in various pitches are heard. Subjective tinnitus is the most common form of this condition, and it can only be heard by the patient. Objective tinnitus, caused by more rare conditions in the ear, can be heard by the doctor who performs the examination. The symptoms can come and go throughout the day, and the ringing in the ears often disrupts concentration. Long-term exposure to loud noises, such as MP3 devices played at loud volumes, concerts, and heavy machinery, will damage the ears over time leading to the hearing disorder and permanent hearing damage. Excessive earwax in the ear may lead to a blockage that irritates the eardrum and causes the condition. Other catalysts of tinnitus might be blood vessel disorders, stress, medications such as aspirin, hereditary traits, age, TMJ disorders, high blood pressure, tumors in the head and neck, capillary malformation, and head and neck injuries. Tinnitus is a very common issue because it can be caused by a multitude of underlying conditions.2
How Can It Be Treated?
A wide range of treatments can be pursued in order to treat tinnitus. Curing the underlying condition is the first step because the noisy symptom may also cease along with its cause. There are a few things that could help prevent or minimize the condition, including reducing exposure to loud noise, decreasing salt intake, avoidance of total silence, avoidance of stimulants like nicotine and caffeine, and regular exercise. Some antidepressants and anti-anxiety medications might be helpful for some patients, though research in this area is not sufficient. A patient that seeks counseling or a support group could find that learning from professionals and peers about managing their stress and learning to ignore the disruptive noise to a degree is helpful. Music that does not have wide fluctuations in amplitude can be soothing for the patient. Relaxation creates stimulation in the brain that creates positive emotions, altering the patient’s perspective of their tinnitus.3 There are other forms of sound therapy, such as masking, distraction, habituation, and neuromodulation. Sound masking, often in the form of white noise, is meant to completely mask or distract from the sound of tinnitus, diverting the patient’s attention during the masking device’s use. This is a very short-term solution. Hearing aids amplify external noises and they also take attention away from the patient’s condition. Notched-music devices play special “algorithmically-modified sounds in which specific frequencies and tones are emphasized — often at a level not consciously perceivable by the listener”. This is a form of neuromodulation that subtly habituates the subject to the sound of their tinnitus in a controlled manner.4 Dietary changes are another factor in reducing this condition. Salt, excessive sugar, sugar substitutes, monosodium glutamate, diet soft drinks, coffee, and alcohol should be avoided by patients with tinnitus. The “Mediterranean Diet”, on the other hand, is recommended as the most successful diet for patients. The diet predominately consists of fresh produce, whole grains, nuts, olives and olive oil, minimal red meat and red wine consumption, fish, poultry, and dairy products. The diet can be supplemented with copper, B12, and zinc. Zinc, especially, has been found by many to be a great factor in the reduction of the severity of this disorder.5
Alternative Treatments Options
Chiropractic assistance is another treatment option for tinnitus. Adjustment of the cervical spine, particularly in the upper region and the cranium could restore balance and influence cortical function. Chronic pain can be reduced or healed by readjusting the spine and extremities. Pain in these areas can be a likely cause of ringing in the ears. Fascial release and trigger point techniques used on the paraspinal regions and TMJs are some other possible fixes. A chiropractor can recommend exercises and masking product solutions for the patient to perform and use at home.6 Massage is also a possible treatment option for this condition, and it is even more effective when the cause of the condition is stress. A full-body massage alone is good for relaxation. Focusing on the ear, the masseuse will perform circular, massaging motions on the earlobe. There is sometimes a “groove of tinnitus” that comes with the condition, and this is an area where pressure may be applied by the masseuse. The patient should tell their massage therapist if they experience a reduction the ear-related symptoms so that the therapist knows to continue working on that area. Self-massage can be performed, though a professional is much more likely to do a better job.7
Learn more about treating jaw problems that cause tinnitus.