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Ringing in the Ears: Hope for Tomorrow, Solutions Today

If you’ve ever felt the sensation of buzzing, humming, or whooshing in your ears, but no one around you seems to hear it, you’re not alone. It could be tinnitus, a condition experienced by anywhere from 4% to 37% of people around the world.

There’s no cure yet, but tinnitus can be successfully managed, and some cases clear up on their own. With science always on the case for future breakthroughs, read on for exciting research news and empowering solutions available today.


Understanding the Basics of Tinnitus

Typically, tinnitus is a symptom of some underlying issue, such as excess noise exposure, hearing loss, a head injury, dental problems, or an earwax blockage. At its core, tinnitus is often thought to result from some sort of damage to the auditory or hearing system.

There are two main categories of tinnitus — pulsatile and nonpulsatile:


Pulsatile Tinnitus

This rare type of tinnitus, also called “pulse synchronous,” is a rhythmic throbbing or pulsing sound in the head or ears, often synchronized with the heartbeat. The person may hear the sound of their own pulse due to abnormal blood flow within the arteries of the neck or inside the ear.


Nonpulsatile tinnitus

The more common nonpulsatile tinnitus is a continuous or episodic ringing, buzzing, humming, or other noise in the head or ears. It results from problems with the structures in the inner ear related to hearing — damage to the cochlea or auditory nerve, for example.

In some cases, the ringing in your ears or head can be heard by a third party — your hearing care provider, for example. This “objective tinnitus” is less common than the “subjective” version in which only the person with the condition can perceive the sounds.

Tinnitus can range from mild to debilitating, making it important to seek care from a knowledgeable provider. Relief can come in many options, but it starts with a professional evaluation.


Unlocking Secrets for Future Tinnitus Treatments

Cochlear Neural Connections

Could associations between tinnitus and the body’s nerve activity give more insight into root causes of the condition? Research conducted by Massachusetts Eye and Ear investigators and involving nearly 300 people explored whether cochlear neural degeneration is linked to self-reported tinnitus symptoms.

Cochlear neural degeneration involves the gradual breakdown of nerve cells in the cochlea, a critical part of the inner ear that sends sound signals to the brain. Deterioration of those hearing cells can interrupt signal transmission to the brain, resulting in potential hearing loss.

The study, published in late 2023 in Scientific Reports, found that those with chronic tinnitus seemed to have less cochlear nerve activity than those with intermittent or no tinnitus. The associated nerves in the brainstem, however, showed increased activity, which might induce the phantom sounds.

Cochlear neural damage doesn’t always trigger tinnitus symptoms, but this encouraging research gives another reason to continue mining the secrets of the auditory nerve for possible solutions. It’s inspiring to see where this exploration could go.


Clinical-Trial Participation

Tinnitus research plays a pivotal role in improving ear, hearing, and potentially even brain health. So what stops some tinnitus patients from enrolling in clinical trials? What motivates them to participate, decline to get involved, or withdraw mid-trial? Are they made aware of research opportunities, and what roadblocks might be in the way?

A potential study by Power Life Sciences Inc., a company trying to remove barriers to successfully accessing clinical trials, will explore reasons people with tinnitus do or don’t participate in research opportunities, possibly yielding insights that might aid future investigations.

With an estimated 500 tinnitus-diagnosed adults sought for enrollment, the study is tentatively slated to get underway this spring and conclude overall in April 2026. It’s a timely topic, and we’re looking forward to learning the study’s outcomes.


Virtual-Reality Interventions

Who says VR is just for gaming? Back in 2016, a fascinating study suggested that virtual reality-based tinnitus treatment can be at least as effective as standard care, such as cognitive behavioral therapy. Fast forward to 2024, in which a separate investigation, expected to finish this spring, looks to further validate the possibilities.

Participants in the latter study will each receive a “tinnitus avatar,” a sound closely matching their unique tinnitus sound. During eight different sessions, the participants will spend time freely wandering in a variety of virtual 3D environments that include environmental sounds.

The participants can hear their tinnitus avatar, but they can also see it as a sparkling spot. Using a wand, they can control their tinnitus avatar in the virtual environment, including masking it by moving closer to other sounds.

Researchers hope to show that by interacting with the tinnitus avatar as if it were a standard sound, patients can reset their perception of tinnitus, reducing its invasiveness.


App-Based Relief

For some, tinnitus is barely a blip in their day. For others, it can be a frequent annoyance or even a potentially incapacitating issue. In severe cases, tinnitus can impact mental health, lead to isolation, and affect the ability to sleep or think. To combat tinnitus, a group of researchers developed an app.

The mobile app, coupled with training, reportedly leans into a combination of techniques such as sound therapy, cognitive behavioral therapy, and meditative exercises personalized to the user to help them filter out the bothersome noises.

It’s certainly not the first tinnitus app to hit the market — many purport to bring relief with masking sounds and the like — but researchers reported positive results in their small 30-person study. We love the fusion of mobile technology and health but always recommend professional intervention in tackling tinnitus symptoms and resolving any underlying conditions.


Getting Help for Tinnitus Today

Speaking of “relief”: Tinnitus can be successfully managed, with several potential options available to help lessen its impact on your life. Addressing it may involve diagnostic evaluations — including ruling out possible medical factors, such as ear damage — and the development of a treatment plan.

Effective treatment often depends on the underlying cause and can range from earwax removal, hearing technology, or sound devices to medication adjustments, lifestyle changes, or other help, such as tinnitus rehabilitation therapy.

Other types of counseling, such as sleep, cognitive behavioral, or relaxation methods, can also play an important role in helping you manage your tinnitus symptoms by reducing the stress, anxiety, and sleeplessness often associated with the condition.

Relief might come in the form of habituation, in which the brain adapts to tinnitus such that the condition doesn’t rise to the level of negatively affecting your life. Sound therapy can prove quite helpful in achieving this state.

In some situations, surgery that’s recommended for an underlying medical condition — for example, an acoustic neuroma or abnormal growth on the main nerve running from the inner ear to the brain — may additionally help resolve the tinnitus symptoms.


Tinnitus at a Glance: 5 Quick Facts

  1. Over 1 in 4 people worldwide could have tinnitus, which can develop at nearly any age but appears to be most common among those between 40 and 80.
  2. Various conditions can lead to tinnitus, including exposure to loud noise, earwax blockage, head or neck trauma, ear infection, age-related hearing loss, or other conditions such as Ménière’s disease.
  3. Tinnitus can significantly impact quality of life, even, in some cases, leading to anxiety, depression, or other mental-health challenges.
  4. Though most tinnitus doesn’t self-resolve, various treatments such as sound and cognitive behavioral therapies, hearing aids, and lifestyle changes can limit symptoms and their impact.
  5. Prevention plays a big role, making it especially important to curb exposure to loud noises (including wearing hearing protection) and schedule regular hearing evaluations to catch potential issues early.

Science never sleeps in the pursuit of tinnitus innovations and discovery. It’s one of the reasons so many options for effective help are available now. If you have questions about tinnitus or what management approaches might be available to you, don’t wait. Contact us today.

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