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Ringing In The Ears: Five Tips to Terminate Tinnitus

Tinnitus, or ringing in the ears, is seldom a sign of a serious problem. Unfortunately, knowing this does little to relieve the constant irritation that plagues those who suffer from tinnitus. Fret not though, there are ways to lessen or even eliinate the ringing.

1. Address the Underlying Cause

Tinnitus is always a symptom of another problem, not a condition in and of itself. Hearing loss, ear wax, high blood pressure, TMJ (temporomandibular joint) disorders, and medications can all cause tinnitus. Fortunately, most of the conditions that lead to tinnitus are treatable. With resolution of the underlying condition comes relief from the ringing.

Keep in mind that pinpointing the cause of tinnitus can be very difficult. It may take several weeks and a number of different tests before a definitive answer can be found. Once that answer is found, an appropriate treatment can be administered. In some cases, the exact cause of tinnitus is never discerned. In situations where a cause cannot be found, other alternatives for reducing or eliminating the ringing must be sought.

2. Noise Suppression and Retraining 

In some cases, you can drown out tinnitus with other noises. White noise machines and other masking devices can be used to stimulate the inner ear just enough to prevent or reduce ringing, though not so much as to be annoying. Noise suppression is especially effective in people who only notice tinnitus during quiet times.

Some devices are designed to actually retrain the ear. They work by delivering tonal music that specifically matches an individual patient's tinnitus symptoms. By doing this, the brain learns to ignore the ringing even though it is actually still there. The net result is that patients either no longer experience the tinnitus or experience it at much less severe levels.

3. Medications

No drug will cure tinnitus, but there are many that can reduce its severity or even eliminate the ringing as long as they are taken regularly. The most common drug treatments for tinnitus are tricyclic antidepressants, like amitriptyline, and benzodiazepines. Alprazolam, also called Xanax, is the most common benzodiazepine used in the treatment of tinnitus. Care should always be taken with benzodiazepines as they can be habit-forming.

4. Counseling and Stress Management

Though stress does not cause tinnitus, it can make it worse. Unfortunately, the stress-tinnitus connection can become a self-reinforcing cycle as the tinnitus increases stress, which in turn exacerbates the tinnitus. Counseling can provide ways to break this cycle.

The first way counseling helps is through biofeedback. In this process, you learn how to recognize when you are becoming stressed or when your tinnitus is likely to worsen. You can then take measures to eliminate the stress or you can remove yourself from the situation. The key is learning to recognize the body signals that tell you your tinnitus is about to get worse.

The second way in which counseling breaks the stress-tinnitus cycle is by offering mechanisms for coping with stress. Learning to deal with stress can prevent the cycle from beginning. It turns out that healthy hearing and good mental health are linked, so counseling can sometimes provide relief that no other treatment can.

5. Reduce Alcohol, Nicotine, and Caffeine Consumption

Both alcohol and nicotine reduce blood flow to the inner ear, which can worsen tinnitus. They can also combine with other factors (particularly medications) to cause tinnitus in people who would otherwise not experience it. Alcohol is likely to interact with a number of medications, so ask your doctor about interactions when starting any new drugs.

It isn't clear how caffeine worsens tinnitus, but it does. Cutting back on coffee, tea, chocolate, and other substances that contain caffeine can substantially reduce the symptoms of tinnitus. Interestingly, teas with ginkgo biloba can help tinnitus, so find a decaffeinated tea that contains ginkgo biloba and give that a try.

Professional Help for Tinnitus

The above tips provide just a few ways to lessen the impact of tinnitus in your life. Always have tinnitus evaluated by a physician in order to determine what underlying health problem is causing the ringing. Your doctor may be able to prescribe treatment for tinnitus to address both the underlying cause and the tinnitus itself.

Kenneth Bassett is passionate about ears. He enjoys writing about hearing problems and possible treatments on ear and hearing blogs.