Image by Gordon Johnson from Pixabay

Tinnitus is one of the most common health conditions, affecting 10-25% of adults in the US, depending upon the study. It’s usually described as a ringing in the ears, but it can be a phantom noise of any kind. Most people say it’s worse at night, though this could be a function of silence (when it’s quiet and you have nothing else to do, you just notice it more). 

Causes of Tinnitus

In many cases, we don’t know the causes of tinnitus for certain, which makes appropriate root cause treatment challenging (you have to know the cause to be able to effectively address it.) 

However, this study shows that very common triggers are loud noises (implying damage to the inner ear) and hypertension (implying increased pressure in the inner ear). 

Viral infections in some cases may be responsible. Acutely, viruses can cause labyrinthitis, and tinnitus may be a longer-term consequence. Most recently, “long COVID” has been linked to tinnitus, as well as to dizziness and vertigo. 

In many cases, the cause can be traced back to pharmaceuticals (usually those that get processed through the kidneys, I’ve found — according to Traditional Chinese Medicine philosophy, the kidney “meridians” are considered to open to the ears.) Sometimes side effects develop immediately after initiation of a drug carrying that particular potential side effect, in which case it’s much easier to draw a clear correlation than if it develops much later, though the latter can also occur. 

Along those lines, vaccines have been traced to the development of tinnitus. The COVID vaccines in particular are linked to tinnitus, though others have been as well. Again, immediate onset post-vaccination makes it easier to draw this correlation, though this isn’t always the case either. 

Some nutrient deficiencies have been correlated with development of tinnitus, including zinc, Vitamin B12, and Vitamin D. 

A careful case history and testing may or may not make the cause obvious. Other possible causes in my experience include recent dental work, mold exposure, EMF, heavy metal toxicity, dehydration (including low electrolyte levels), and more. There are, unfortunately, a lot of possibilities. 

Tinnitus Treatment Approaches

Anything that drives blood flow can, in theory, stimulate healing. This is likely why both ginkgo and ginseng are common herbs for treating tinnitus, as they increase microcirculation, including to the ears. 

Low level laser therapy, particularly in the infrared part of the spectrum, has also been shown to be quite effective. This is assumed to be due to stimulating mitochondrial function, which is fundamental to heal nearly any tissue. Also, infrared light stimulates the growth of the exclusion zone of water, and since fluid dynamics are central to the function of the inner ear, it’s certainly possible that this could contribute as well. 

Melatonin has long been used for tinnitus. This may have to do with its role in aiding sleep (after all, if you’re asleep, you’re not listening to the ringing in your ears.) But melatonin is also a natural calcium channel blocker, so it’s possible the mechanism may have to do with this–particularly since calcium signaling is critical to sound transduction in the ear. 

Finally, if loud noises can damage the inner ear, music therapy might be able to at least mitigate, if not cure it. At the very least, it can soothe your nervous system, of which your hearing is a part. 

The Upshot

If the cause can be identified, it can usually be addressed directly. If it can’t, we’re largely relegated to somewhat symptomatic approaches. That said, you can’t really go wrong with approaches that drive blood flow, stimulate mitochondrial function, and soothe your nervous system.