You learn to adapt to living with tinnitus. You always leave the TV on to help you tune out the continuous ringing. The loud music at happy hour makes your tinnitus much worse so you avoid going out with your friends. You’re always making appointments to try new techniques and therapies. Eventually, your tinnitus just becomes something you fold into your daily life.
Mainly, that’s because there’s no cure for tinnitus. But that might be changing. We may be getting close to a reliable and permanent cure for tinnitus according to research published in PLOS biology. Until that happens, hearing aids can be really helpful.
The Exact Causes of Tinnitus Are Not Clear
Tinnitus usually is experienced as a buzzing or ringing in the ear (though, tinnitus could manifest as other sounds too) that do not have an objective cause. A condition that impacts millions of individuals, tinnitus is very common.
It’s also a symptom, generally speaking, and not a cause unto itself. Tinnitus is essentially caused by something else. One of the reasons why a “cure” for tinnitus is elusive is that these root causes can be difficult to narrow down. Tinnitus symptoms can occur due to a number of reasons.
True, most people attribute tinnitus to hearing loss of some type, but even that relationship is murky. Some individuals who have tinnitus do have hearing loss but some don’t.
Inflammation: a New Culprit
Dr. Shaowen Bao, an associate professor at the Arizona College of Medicine in Tucson, led a study published in PLOS Biology. Mice with noise-related tinnitus were experimented on by Dr. Bao. And the results of these experiments pointed to a culprit of tinnitus: inflammation.
Scans and tests done on these mice revealed that the regions of the brain in control of listening and hearing typically had considerable inflammation. As inflammation is the body’s reaction to damage, this finding does indicate that noise-induced hearing loss might be creating some damage we don’t fully understand as of yet.
But new kinds of treatment are also made possible by this discovery of inflammation. Because we know (broadly speaking) how to handle inflammation. The symptoms of tinnitus went away when the mice were given drugs that inhibited inflammation. Or, at least, those symptoms weren’t observable anymore.
Does This Mean There’s a Pill For Tinnitus?
This research does seem to suggest that, in the long run, there may actually be a pill for tinnitus. Imagine that, rather than investing in these various coping mechanisms, you can simply pop a pill in the morning and keep your tinnitus at bay.
That’s certainly the goal, but there are a number of huge hurdles in the way:
- Not everybody’s tinnitus will be caused the same way; it’s hard to know (at this stage) whether all or even most tinnitus is connected to inflammation of some kind.
- First, these experiments were done on mice. And there’s a lot to do before this specific approach is considered safe and approved for people.
- We need to make sure any new strategy is safe; it could take some time to identify particular side effects, complications, or problems connected to these specific inflammation-blocking medicines.
So, a pill for tinnitus might be a long way off. But it’s no longer impossible. If you have tinnitus now, that represents a substantial increase in hope. And several other tinnitus treatments are also being studied. Every new discovery, every new bit of knowledge, brings that cure for tinnitus just a little bit closer.
Is There Anything You Can Do?
If you have a persistent ringing or buzzing in your ears today, the promise of a far-off pill may give you hope – but not necessarily alleviation. Even though we don’t have a cure for tinnitus, there are some contemporary treatments that can produce real results.
There are cognitive therapies that help you learn to ignore tinnitus noises and others that use noise cancellation strategies. Many people also get relief with hearing aids. A cure might be a number of years off, but that doesn’t mean you need to cope with tinnitus alone or unaided. Spending less time thinking about the ringing in your ears and more time doing the things you love can happen for you by finding the right treatment.