I have tinnitus (a.k.a. ringing in the ears) in my left ear, and it drives me crazier than Republicans and Democrats saying they want to work together. The truth is, no single conventional or alternative treatment exists for this problem, despite the fact that it’s very common.
There are just so many risk factors and conditions associated with the disorder. For example, antibiotics can increase the risk of tinnitus by damaging the inner ear cells that transmit sound to the auditory nerve, all the more reason to avoid taking antibiotics if you don’t need them.
Doctors should be open to a variety of potential supplement treatments for tinnitus because the benefit outweighs the risk in most cases. I can’t promise a supplement solution, but I think it’s worth being a guinea pig.
What is Tinnitus?
Tinnitus is the conscious perception of a constant or intermittent ringing, buzzing, hissing, or whistling sensation that occurs in the absence of a sound or other stimulus. It can be heard in one or both ears, or centrally within the head, although some describe an external sound source, as if it’s close to the ears.
In most cases, you’re the only one who can hear it (subjective tinnitus), but in some rare cases, others can also hear it (objective tinnitus). In other rare cases, patients can hear a thumping sound that is sometimes in sync with their heartbeat (pulsatile tinnitus).
Tinnitus impacts approximately 10 to 15 percent of the population, and close to one in three will seek medical attention for it. (I got a hearing test, which was normal, and multiple reassurances that I was going to be okay. I also had an MRI, which was negative, because you always want to make sure there isn’t a tumor growing near the auditory nerve.)
It’s usually caused by damage to the nerve cells in the ear. Seventy percent of cases are due to trauma (working around loud machines or going to a loud concert) or aging, but the remaining 30 percent can be traced to any of 20 different factors, from ear problems, like infection or excess wax, to temporomandibular joint disorder (TMJ), to more systemic diseases, such as rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, and diabetes. More than 200 drugs (including pain killers, antibiotics, and diuretics) can cause it as well!
Tinnitus affects men and women equally, but, as mentioned earlier, there is an increased risk with aging, especially for those between 60 and 70 years old. Half of sufferers report tinnitus in both ears or centrally within the head, but in the other half, tinnitus is more left-sided than right for some unknown reason.
Unfortunately, way too many individuals are told to “learn to live with it,” which makes no sense. Although there are so many potential causes, there are also so many different treatment options, from sound therapy and dietary supplements to surgery. If tinnitus does not get better in a few months or if it is associated with dizziness or vertigo, see an otolaryngologist (also called an ENT doc).
Home Remedies For Treating Tinnitus
1. Melatonin 1 to 3 milligrams daily or as needed
Tinnitus can disrupt sleep, so any safe supplement that will help sufferers catch some z’s is useful. While writing this book, I experienced bad tinnitus, and going to sleep or staying asleep was tough! I took 3 milligrams of melatonin about 15 to 30 minutes before bed, but some people respond well to only 1 milligram. (Higher doses are being tested.)
A new review of tinnitus clinical trials now suggests melatonin may actually reduce tinnitus and not just help you sleep better with the condition. Always start low; too much can create a cycle of dependence and make you feel groggy or fatigued the next day.
2. Pycnogenol 100 to 150 milligrams a day
A small clinical trial of Pycnogenol (an anti-inflammatory supplement derived from the bark of the French maritime pine tree) demonstrated a potential to improve circulation in the inner ear, and it may even reduce the severity of tinnitus over 1 to 2 months. It also has an excellent safety record.
The problem with Pycnogenol is that the research suggests it can benefit a wide variety of conditions. When a supplement has preliminary research suggesting it’s beneficial in so many areas, I get skeptical. It’s hard to be a “jack of all trades” as a supplement and be really good at any one of them. However, I’m willing to make an exception in the area of tinnitus.
3. Bioflavonoids 200 to 800 milligrams a day
These are some of the most common protective compounds found in plants. They’re antioxidants, but are generally not absorbed well by the body. However, their anti-inflammatory, procirculatory, and cellular defense properties make them a commonly studied supplement for a variety of difficult-to-treat conditions, such as tinnitus.
There is some evidence to suggest that people with otosclerosis-induced tinnitus (an inner ear bone abnormality) might benefit from a bioflavonoid supplement.
For example, the bioflavonoid ipriflavone (derived from soy and also known as 7-isopropoxyisoflavone) is being studied for the treatment of osteoporosis. Some small studies using 200 milligrams four times per day for up to 6 months have found some benefit in reducing or stopping tinnitus. If you have tinnitus caused by oto-sclerosis, ipriflavone might stave off further problems with the small inner ear bones that could make the problem worse.
Another bioflavonoid dietary supplement called Lipo-Flavonoid Plus (follow package dosing) is perhaps the best-selling tinnitus dietary supplement in the United States, and I am often asked whether it works. (I became much more interested in answering this after I got tinnitus that didn’t go away after a few weeks.)
The supplement was developed specifically for people with tinnitus by an otolaryngologist at the Mayo Clinic, and it contains the following:
- Eriodictyol glycoside (an extract from lemon citrus bioflavonoid)
- Vitamins B1, B2, B3, B6, and B12
- Choline, inositol, and pantothenic acid
- Vitamin C
At first glance, it appears to be a glorified multivitamin with one special ingredient from lemon citrus bioflavonoid. The research cited by the Web site and in the packaging is for a condition called Ménière’s disease, an inner ear disorder that causes vertigo, tinnitus, and hearing loss.
Although tinnitus is one of the primary symptoms of Ménière’s, I’m not convinced it will help tinnitus sufferers who don’t have it. Regardless, since it contains a bioflavonoid complex, I think it’s worth a try for 3 months.
What Are Useless For Treating Tinnitus?
It’s one of the most commonly recommended supplements for tinnitus due to its blood-thinning properties (thinner blood should improve inner ear circulation, goes the thinking), but the research is weak and good studies have shown no overall benefit. In addition, there have been quality-control issues with this supplement, so the risk exceeds the benefit.
It is supposed to improve the health and function of the auditory nerve and is often recommended for tinnitus, but I never bought into this. When researchers tested a daily 50-milligram dose of zinc sulfate for 4 months in people with tinnitus from various causes, they found it worked about as well as a placebo.
And excessive zinc (100 milligrams or more a day) has been shown to damage the sense of taste and smell. If that’s the case, I wonder if it will damage hearing as well!
Older research suggested B vitamins might reduce tinnitus by correcting an underlying deficiency, but recent studies show they don’t work better than a placebo.
Regardless, some supplement manufacturers still use this deficiency-correcting argument in ads. But don’t buy into it. Another marketing theory is that B vitamins can reduce stress, which can reduce tinnitus. Sorry! B vitamins have never been proven to reduce stress or tinnitus. If you are worried about your B12 status, just ask your doctor for a blood test.
What Is Suitable For Kids to Treat Tinnitus?
When children get tinnitus, they generally appear less distressed by it than adults. There’s no research regarding the impact of supplements on tinnitus in kids. I recommend following the adult suggestions above, (especially melatonin, which has been tested in kids) but at half the dosage.
Other Natural Cures For Tinnitus
Heart healthy = ear healthy
Say it with me: Lowering blood pressure and cholesterol, consuming less salt, exercising, reducing stress, and getting enough rest will help my ticker and my ears.
Protect your ears
Loud noise can lead to or worsen tinnitus, so wear earplugs at concerts or even in loud workout classes.
Reduce blood pressure increasing products in excess
Caffeinated beverages, alcohol, and nicotine can make tinnitus worse.
Review meds with your doctor
Besides antibiotics, high doses of aspirin or ibuprofen and certain antihypertensive drugs can cause tinnitus or make it worse.
Check out magnesium
This important mineral is being tested as an otoprotectant. The Recommend Dietary Allowance for adults is 320 milligrams (women) to 420 milligrams (men). It’s one of the nutrients that people tend to lack in their diets. Fish, nuts, beans, seeds, and veggies are some of the highest sources.
Consider a hearing aid
The better you hear, the less you may notice tinnitus (hearing loss can cause the brain to turn up its internal volume—like feedback from an overly sensitive microphone). A hearing aid (or in more severe cases, a cochlear implant) could lower the volume of your tinnitus.
Counseling or cognitive behavioral therapy may not reduce tinnitus, but it has been shown to help with conditions that are associated with tinnitus, such as sleep problems and depression.