Natural Solutions for Tinnitus Relief
Cases of tinnitus, the medical term for “ringing in the ears,” appear to be an increasingly prevalent problem these days. The symptoms of tinnitus can be intermittent or constant, and may include sound misperception, hissing, ringing, buzzing, or pulsing when no actual sound exists. Tinnitus is caused by a malfunction in the cochlea, a part of the inner ear that converts sound waves into nerve signals interpreted by the brain.
Tinnitus is often experienced after exposure to loud noises, or after listening music at high volumes, especially when amplified in small spaces. High sound levels are becoming especially problematic among those who listen to music on smartphones and other devices that direct loud music right into the eardrum with headphones. Continuous exposure to high sound levels can cause permanent damage to the eardrum that is not correctable or treatable.
Tinnitus is usually transitory, with spontaneous recovery with or without treatment. If it persists for more than six months the condition is considered chronic. It’s estimated that up to 20% of the North American population suffers from mild tinnitus symptoms, and 80% of sufferers hear ringing constantly. About 30% of the elderly regularly experience tinnitus.
Some antibiotics, common prescription medications, and non-prescription drugs including aspirin and ibuprofen can cause tinnitus. Other common causes include head trauma, sinus and ear infections, high blood pressure, TMJ problems, hypothyroidism, and certain types of tumors.
It is important to differentiate common tinnitus with Meniere’s disease, a serious condition characterized by tinnitus, vertigo, nausea, vomiting, and hearing loss. A recent study found that 150 mg per day of Pycnogenol, a supplement shown to be effective for common tinnitus, was also effective in improving symptoms of Meniere’s disease.
The two matching joints in front of our ears are called the temporomandibular joints. The TMJs connect the lower jaw to the skull. TMJ problems include popping sounds in the jaw, jaw stiffness and pain, headaches, earaches, toothaches, and of course tinnitus.
To determine if tinnitus is being caused by TMJ problems, a visit to your dentist may be beneficial. Small bite adjustments or the preparation of an oral splint may be helpful, especially if teeth clenching exacerbates the tinnitus. A change in the sound of the tinnitus when pushing on the jaw with the palm of your hand may also be a sign that it is related to TMJ disorders.
Endothelial Dysfunction and Nitric Oxide
Impaired endothelial function is normally associated with cardiovascular disease, poor circulation, and erectile dysfunction. Due to reduced circulation to the inner ear, it is also shown to contribute to tinnitus symptoms. Nitric oxide is the miracle molecule produced by the inner lining of our blood vessels to improve circulation and blood flow to all parts of the body. A variety of supplements and foods have been shown to help improve flow-mediated dilation by increasing the endothelial production of nitric oxide. Some beneficial foods and herbs include vegetables and berries, Ginkgo biloba, vinpocetine, resveratrol, Pycnogenol, grape seed extract, ginger, and curcumin.
Vitamin A: Vitamin A is found in high concentrations in the cochlea and the retina. Sensory receptor cells that send auditory and visual signals to the brain require vitamin A and zinc. Several studies have confirmed that vitamin A provides substantial health benefits to those with tinnitus.
Vitamin B12: Many studies have found a connection between B12 deficiency and auditory problems. In a published report from the American Journal of Otolaryngology, 47% of people with tinnitus were deficient in vitamin B12. B12 is often poorly absorbed in the stomach, especially for those over 40 years of age. I recommend an oral hydroxocobalamin lozenge that includes vitamin B6 and folate.
Magnesium: In one study, 300 military recruits undergoing basic training were exposed to high sound levels of sound, with tinnitus as the result. Those who received 167 mg of magnesium aspartate saw a significant reduction in symptoms. I recommend MPA capsules (magnesium and potassium aspartate), magnesium glycinate, and magnesium bis-glycinate.
Zinc: Even the marginal zinc deficiency frequently seen in older people can contribute to hearing problems similar to those caused by ear damage from noise or aging. In patients with sensorineural hearing loss and low serum zinc levels, zinc supplementation for 3-6 months resulted in a reduction in tinnitus for about 25% of the cases, in one trial. Another study found that 52% of patients with low serum zinc had an improvement within one month.
Pycnogenol®: An extract from the bark of the French maritime pine tree, a recent study demonstrated a dramatic reduction in tinnitus background noise after only four weeks of supplementation. The effects were dose related, with the best results from those taking 150 mg per day. Pycnogenol increases blood flow to the inner air by improving microcirculation through increased production of nitric oxide. The benefits can be enhanced by combining it with the amino acid L-citrulline. Studies have shown Pycnogenol can also lower blood pressure, improve skin conditions, boost sexual function, and ease Meniere’s disease symptoms including vertigo and hearing loss.
Vinpocetine: An extract of the periwinkle plant, vinpocetine has been shown to improve cognitive function and has been used in Germany for over 25 years as a treatment for tinnitus. Sometimes called “Viagra for the brain,” vinpocetine is often prescribed to improve memory and mental focus. Recommended dosage is 10-15 mg, three times a day.
Ginkgo Biloba Extract: Another herb known for improving cognition, eight randomized, placebo-controlled trials of a standardized Ginkgo biloba extract showed statistically significant benefits for tinnitus when compared to placebo. Choose a standardized extract that contains at least 24% ginkgo heterosides.
Quality and quantity of sleep are important for tinnitus and overall health.
Many people find white noise and sound masking machines indispensable for getting a good night’s sleep when dealing with tinnitus. Sound masking devices including models from Sound Oasis produce doctor approved sounds that help effectively mask tinnitus. There are free sound masking apps available for Android and iOS devices, as well. These programs work best when used with external speakers rather than through your phone or tablet’s speaker.
White noise machines are also popular for easing symptoms through soft background noise. A simple fan can often work well as a white noise machine, and some electronic devices mimic a fan sound. Even the soft sound of a humidifier or air purifier can be effective, with the added benefit of improving the air quality in your sleep environment.
Melatonin: In a double-blind study, 3 mg of melatonin per night for 90 days resulted in improved sleep and a lessening of symptoms for tinnitus sufferers. Choose a sublingual form that is dissolved in the mouth or under the tongue. You can also boost melatonin levels with supplements containing natural forms of the amino acid L-tryptophan, and wearing blue blocking glasses for 60-90 minutes before bedtime, as blue light inhibits melatonin production by the pineal gland.
Tinnitus Retraining Therapy
Dr. Pawel Jastreboff and Jonathan Hazell developed tinnitus retraining therapy in 1990, and many have found it to work well. TRT trains the sufferer to “habituate” (grow accustomed) to the ringing that can be so disturbing. Many Canadian Hearing Society audiologists are trained in TRT therapy, which claims an 80% success rate.
Ear Wax: A buildup of ear wax can contribute to tinnitus symptoms. Natural wax removal kits and ear drops that include olive oil, garlic, calendula, and other healing oils can help safely remove impacted ear wax and cleanse the ear canal.
Chiropractic Adjustments: Many have found that a chiropractic adjustment known as upper cervical chiropractic care can reduce or eliminate tinnitus symptoms, and a German study indicated that some cases of tinnitus can be the result of an injury to the upper cervical spine.
Boost nitric oxide levels and help fight inflammation by focusing on foods that are high in antioxidants and nitrates like kale, beets and spinach. Avoid processed and refined foods, starches, and anything “white.” Increase fibre consumption by choosing whole foods and grains. Consume healthy fats high in anti-inflammatory omega-3 including flax and camelina oil. Reduce consumption of pro-inflammatory omega-6 oils like soybean, sunflower, corn, safflower, and rice bran. Consider intermittent fasting, proven to fight inflammation and speed the healing process. Regular exercise improves blood flow to all parts of the body, including the ear.
As stress and fatigue exacerbate tinnitus symptoms, I recommend yoga, meditation, biofeedback, and other relaxation techniques. Brainwave entrainment audio programs and vibroacoustic therapy can be effective at inducing relaxation quickly.
Put a rubber eraser (the type you place over the end of a pencil) on the end of an electric toothbrush. Move the eraser around the bony area just behind the ear until you feel and hear the vibrations. Continue the massage for two to three minutes, twice a day, for each ear. Many have found this technique to be extremely beneficial in treating tinnitus, with some reporting complete cessation of symptoms.
Integrating these lifestyle recommendations, supplements, and techniques into your daily routine should lessen or alleviate this condition, and help to improve overall health and cognition.