What to Do for Ringing in the Ears

Medically Reviewed By William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS
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Ringing in the ears, or tinnitus, is a common complaint. More than 50 million Americans have experienced tinnitus, and about 1 in 5 people with tinnitus have symptoms that interfere with everyday life, according to the American Academy of Otolaryngology – Head and Neck Surgery. Whether the ringing in your ears sounds more like a chirp, squeal, whine, or whir, tinnitus can be downright annoying. Here’s what you need to know if you’re trying to stop the ringing in your ears.

Get your ears checked by a healthcare professional.

Most of the time, tinnitus is harmless—annoying, but harmless. However, very rarely, tinnitus is caused by a tumor or narrowing of the arteries, so anyone experiencing ringing in the ears should schedule an appointment with a healthcare provider. You can start with your primary care provider, who will look in your ears (to check for excessive ear wax or an ear infection, which can both cause tinnitus) and conduct a thorough health history and medical evaluation.

Your healthcare provider will also ask you what supplements and over-the-counter and prescription medicines you are taking. More than 200 medications are known to cause ringing in the ears. So, if you’re on one of those medications, your healthcare provider may recommend stopping the medication and using something else instead.

If your primary doctor is unable to find a cause for your tinnitus, she may refer you to an otolaryngologist—an ear, nose and throat doctor (ENT doctor), for a more thorough examination. Your physician may also order hearing tests. Tinnitus and hearing loss frequently occur together, and hearing tests can help your doctor better understand your symptoms and decide on an appropriate treatment.

Adopt healthier behaviors.

Stress and fatigue tend to make tinnitus worse, so if you’re looking for tinnitus relief, practice stress reduction strategies, such as deep breathing, yoga or regular walks around the block, and schedule 7 to 8 hours of sleep per night. If the ringing in your ears is louder at night—a common phenomenon likely due to the fact that at night, there’s little to distract you from the noise inside your head—try using white noise to mask the sound and soothe you to sleep. Some people like to run a fan at night. Others fall asleep to the sound of waves, rain or wind generated by apps or bedside sound-generating devices. Playing soft music may also lull you to sleep.

Avoid exposure to loud sounds, as external noise can worsen the ringing in your years. If you work in a loud environment or participate in noise-generating hobbies, such as shooting sports or moto-sports, wear ear protection. Your healthcare provider can recommend appropriate and comfortable ear protection.

You may also want to tweak your diet. Some people say they’ve found relief by giving up caffeine or cutting back on their caffeine intake. If you have Meniere’s disease—a disorder of the inner ear that can cause dizzy spells and ringing in the ears—cut back on salt. According to the American Tinnitus Association, there’s a strong correlation between salt consumption and Meniere’s symptoms.

Explore tinnitus treatment.

Treatments commonly used for tinnitus relief include:

 

  • Hearing aids. A hearing aid may improve your hearing and quiet the ringing in your ears. More than half of patients experience tinnitus relief with hearing aids.

  • Sound-masking devices. Ironically, listening to an externally generated sound can mask, or cover the ringing in your ears. Some hearing aids include sound-masking technology. If you don’t need a hearing aid, you may benefit from a wearable sound generator that fits inside your ear. A hearing specialist can fit you with an appropriate device.

  • Medication. There are no curative tinnitus medications, but healthcare providers will sometimes prescribe antianxiety or antidepressant medicine. Because tinnitus can cause or exacerbate anxiety and depression, these types of drugs may help some people cope with tinnitus.

 

  • Counseling. Therapy also can help you cope with the ringing in your ears. Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) can teach you different ways to respond and react to your tinnitus.

It may take a while for you and your healthcare provider to discover the combination of treatments that best relieves your symptoms. Clinical trials testing experimental tinnitus treatment—such as transcranial magnetic stimulation—or variations of current treatments may also be an option for you. Ask your doctor if you qualify for a tinnitus clinical trial or search clinicaltrials.gov.

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Medical Reviewer: William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS
Last Review Date: 2021 Jan 7
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THIS TOOL DOES NOT PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. It is intended for informational purposes only. It is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Never ignore professional medical advice in seeking treatment because of something you have read on the site. If you think you may have a medical emergency, immediately call your doctor or dial 911.
  1. Tinnitus. American Academy of Otolaryngology – Head and Neck Surgery. https://www.enthealth.org/conditions/tinnitus/
  2. Tinnitus. MedlinePlus, U.S. National Library of Medicine. https://medlineplus.gov/tinnitus.html
  3. Tinnitus. National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders. https://www.nidcd.nih.gov/health/tinnitus
  4. Hearing Aids. American Tinnitus Association. https://www.ata.org/managing-your-tinnitus/treatment-options/hearing-aids
  5. Sound Therapies. American Tinnitus Association. https://www.ata.org/managing-your-tinnitus/treatment-options/sound-therapies
  6. Drug Therapies. American Tinnitus Association. https://www.ata.org/managing-your-tinnitus/treatment-options/drug-therapies
  7. General Wellness. American Tinnitus Association. https://www.ata.org/managing-your-tinnitus/treatment-options/general-wellness