Ringing ears, or tinnitus, is a condition for which there is no cure, only treatments and coping mechanisms. After exposure to loud noises, like music concerts or gunshots, some people develop a temporary ringing sound in the ears that will go away on its own within one to two days. Some people experience permanent ringing in the ears that never completely goes away but can be treated through sound therapy, controlling stress, and adjusting food or medication.
Tinnitus is a condition in which a person can hear noises that aren’t present in the external world. The noise may be described as a continuous ringing, clicking, or static that may range in volume level and pitch. For most sufferers, the noise is soft enough that most everyday noises mask the ringing. For others, the constant sound can impair the ability to function.
Ringing ears is most commonly caused by hearing loss due to overexposure to loud noises. Like hearing loss, it’s not possible to stop ringing ears any more than it is possible to cure hearing loss. Tinnitus occurs most frequently in conjunction with some degree of hearing loss in 90 percent of tinnitus patients. Although they will not stop ringing ears, there are techniques to make the noise more manageable.
For many people, sound therapy is an effective way to stop ringing ears by masking the sound with another, unobtrusive sound. Using a fan, a nature sounds CD, or soft music as background noise may be enough to drown out the noise of tinnitus, especially at night when ringing ears may be more noticeable. Recordings of nature sounds, like waterfalls, rainstorms, and ocean waves, can make enough calming background white noise to distract the tinnitus sufferer. It may be necessary to experiment with different types of sound therapy devices to find sound in the appropriate pitch ranges and volume to help a specific patient.
If a patient is taking medication, it may be helpful to contact a physician to discuss the possibility that a medication could be causing or worsening ringing ears. It can also be helpful to selectively eliminate sugar, salt, or alcohol. These are all substances that may aggravate symptoms of ringing ears.
In extreme cases, patients may consider hearing aids or cochlear implants that mask or fill in gaps in impaired hearing and can stop ringing ears temporarily. Although there is not a specific drug for treating tinnitus, some drugs prescribed for other conditions have been shown to help quiet the noise for some people. As severe ringing ears can be distressing, biofeedback and cognitive therapy can help not with tinnitus, but with learning how to react to the tinnitus.