Between 25 and 50 million Americans are plagued with a condition that is imperceptible to other people. They look normal, but they are suffering. In some cases, their agony drives them to consider suicide.
Tinnitus (pronounced either tin-NYE-tis or TIN-uh-tis) is frequently described as ringing in the ears. The sounds are described in many ways: hissing, chirping like crickets, electronic whines, static, rushing water, buzzing, whooshing or humming.
Loudness varies, but it can get so intrusive it is hard to think, hear or sleep. Imagine trying to function with a radio stuck between stations at top volume. You can’t turn it down and you can’t turn it off. No one else can hear what the victim hears, but the sounds are not imaginary.
There are many causes of tinnitus. Veterans suffer as a result of exposure to loud noise during war. Tinnitus is one of the most common causes of disability among those returning from Iraq and Afghanistan.
Hundreds of drugs can also trigger tinnitus. Aspirin and anti-inflammatory drugs like ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin) or naproxen (Aleve) are notorious for this side effect.
If the tinnitus is drug-induced, stopping the medication may eliminate the problem. But the cause of this condition is not always identifiable.
For decades doctors told sufferers there was nothing that could be done to quell the internal noise. Patients were often told to learn to live with it. Some were given drugs like Valium (diazepam) or Xanax (alprazolam) to ease the stress brought on by constant ringing, hissing or buzzing.
Such solutions are unsatisfactory for millions of patients. Living with constant intrusive noise can ruin the quality of life.
Now, a number of devices are being developed to help tinnitus sufferers. Some high-end hearing aids are designed to mask tinnitus noise at the same time they improve hearing. Tinnitus Retraining Therapy (Tinnitus.org) provides patient with counseling and long-term exposure to white noise to overcome the internal sounds. It can take a long time (one to two years) to achieve satisfactory results, however.
One of promising approach is an FDA-approved device that helps retrain the brain. The Neuromonics system (Neuromonics.com) creates a sound that matches the patient’s particular tinnitus noise. This is then embedded in relaxing music that the patient listens to for at least two hours daily. Within two months, many patients experience some relief, but the full program takes at least six months to complete.
In one study, 86 percent of the people using the Neuromonics Tinnitus Treatment got relief from their tinnitus. This was significantly better than the 47 percent in a control group that received counseling and listened to white noise and the 23 percent of those who were given only counseling (Ear, Nose and Throat Journal, June, 2008).
The biggest drawback to tinnitus treatments is the time and the cost involved. Although veterans are often covered through the VA system, civilians usually have to pay out of pocket. Like high-end hearing aids, this system can cost over $4,000.
Now that researchers are learning how to retune the brain, many tinnitus sufferers may be able to get relief at last.

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  1. DD
    Reply

    I am also desperate for some kind of relief from this horrible ailment! I’ve had this problem for about 3 years, but it’s gotten much worse the last 3 months! I’m able to sleep only with the help of prescription sleep meds. As soon as I wake up, I hear the high-pitched tone! It will most certainly drive me crazy if i don’t get some relief!

  2. T.M
    Reply

    This buzzing sounds started about two weeks ago.. I went for ear check up at the university hospital and was told all was well..later I started developing severe headaches and frustration.another hospital put me on migraine medication which still does not stop the ringing sound. I can not study nor sleep. I am really depressed and frustrated, also I am studying out of my country…need help :(

  3. LJH
    Reply

    I think I got tinnitus from Advil! I took it after hip surgery and more recently for sciatica. I noticed high pitched ringing noise all the time when I take it. Then I tried a low dose of aspirin, to try to avoid the Advil, and sure enough, today I have horrible tinnitus!!! even on a few low dose aspirin. Luckily, so far, when I stop the NSAIDS, after a few days it goes away for the most part. But, I am afraid if I keep triggering it, it might not go away! Have to figure out a painkiller that doesn’t have this dangerous side effect.

  4. Anonymous
    Reply

    I have had tinnitus for twenty years. I am a 59 year old female. I have learned over the years to mostly ignore it. Recently, it has increased in loudness. It has been unnerving. I am thankful to read about neuromonics as a treatment. This is a debilitating problem for many. I would say to everyone to be very hopeful. They will find a cure, or a much better way for people to cope with it. I would like to see it come sooner than later. This is why I trust in God to help me thru this and pray that he will give those who work tirelessly on a cure, the knowledge to find that cure.

  5. Gloria
    Reply

    I am relieved to hear that I am NOT the only one who has experienced tinnitus after a complete thyroidectomy!
    I have been dealing with the noise for about 6 months now along with the same tightness in my neck that you described, John. I also am experiencing numbness on my chin and along my cheekbones to the degree where it almost aches (cheekbones only). After repeatedly bringing up the tightness in my neck, my GP concluded that the tissues surrounding the thyroid must have been traumatized and will take time to heal.
    According to my pathology report, the thyroid was enlarged and had kind of wound around some tissue making it harder to remove. Maybe that is what is going on. I have found that the tightness is getting less noticeable over time. The numbness not so much. The doctor did indicate the potential for nerve damage…
    In regard to the tinnitus, so far I’ve been completely blown off by my GP and Endocrinologist in its connection to my thyroidectomy. However, I did a little more surfing and am finding it could be linked to deficiencies in Iodine, Selenium, and certain amino acids. And that it has a connection to T3 levels. I hope this may help, if for nothing else than that you are not alone!

  6. John
    Reply

    I, too, have developed pulsatile tinnitus over the last several months, after total thyroidectomy and levothyroxine hormone replacement. I have no evidence that they are related but the correlation is interesting given your experience. I have wondered whether 1) the thyroid hormone itself is causing it, but the doctor said the TSH lab result was normal for a normal person, though he did concede that it is possible that my body had become accustomed to a higher dose I was previously on. So I was hyperthyroid and didn’t have tinnitus as bad, then I go to a lower dose pill and become euthyroid, and the tinnitus gets worse, which contradicts conventional thought about tinnitus and thyroid levels. (Pulsatile tinnitus is supposed to be sometimes associated with hyperthyroidism.)
    I have also wondered whether, and this complete speculation on my part given a lack of answers from the docs, that scarring in my neck has changed the pressure/flow of blood in my neck and head area. The only “evidence” I have for this is some tightness I experience in my neck in the vicinity of the scar (not the scar itself) and numbness in my neck and especially tongue, aggravated when I turn my neck a certain way, which has been happening pretty much ever since I healed from the surgery. The implication is that the numbness is from scar tissue bearing down on a nerve, and if it can bear down on a nerve, it can bear down on a blood vessel.
    Has anyone else experienced tinnitus/pulsaltile tinnitus related to thyroid surgery or any sort of neck or neck area surgery?

  7. Rita C.
    Reply

    Do any of the over-the-counter remedies have any effect on tinnitus? Such as Quietus, lipo-favonoid, other potions I see on the natural grocer’s shelf.
    The only thing I’ve found to help me sleep is my little radio with earbuds – I listen to something – anything – on the radio and soon I forget the tinnitus and go to sleep. That works most of the time at night.

  8. Andrew B.
    Reply

    When I first had the tinnitus almost sixteen years ago, I tried Gingko Biloba! I have to say for me it was a waste of time and money, and it made my tinnitus even more shrill there for in my case it made it worse. When I stopped taking it it went back to normal, thank god.

  9. Andrew B.
    Reply

    I am 55 years old and a retired bricklayer, I have suffered for almost sixteen years now with permanent tinnitus! There’s no doubt it’s a blight and can get you down, the best thing I find is to keep busy, keeping my mind occupied does help, and take a drink! at night, just a night cap helps me sleep. In the beginning as with lot’s of sufferers it drove me up the wall, but although I don’t feel I’ll ever get used to it! but with time and determination, I learned to cope much better, for all my tinnitus is very load rushing kind of sound in both ears, it doesn’t keep me awake, and when you can sleep you can cope with anything.
    I tried a couple of hearing aid’s that were set up with the help of an audiologist but it didn’t lessen my tinnitus so after a few weeks I took them back to the hospital and handed them back.
    A message for new sufferers is don’t give in, your life will get much better, but you have to be patient, and determined not to give in.
    Natural white noise is a great help too, especially in the beginning, I found a walk on the beach with the sea lapping the shore was a nice masker, or a walk in the woods, with the rustle of the leaves, it hasn’t stopped me leading a normal life, I have as full a life now as I did before I got it. After all “LIFE’S WHAT WE MAKE IT” So make it as best you can. I can’t imagine any ones tinnitus being worse than mine, so if I can cope anyone can cope.

  10. jawbone
    Reply

    I developed tinnitus after my complete thyroidectomy for papillary thyroid cancer in 2006. I wasn’t aware of it at first, but during the day following surgery I became hypersensitive to any loud sounds, then became aware of the funny noise, but the nurses said there was no such sound. I had to close the door because it seemed the noise was coming from a room across the hall. It was almost painful, and I didn’t realize it was tinnitus.
    Since then the level of tinnitus varies for me, and I haven’t tracked exactly when or what coincides with the increase.
    My theory is that my thyroid pumped a lot of thyroid hormone during the surgery (until it could not do much, being out of me). The reason I think this is that I could not sleep the entire night after my surgery. When I got out of the hospital I don’t remember sleeping the first or second nights. On the second day after surgery I had to have a blood test to determine whether my parathyroids were maintaining my blood calcium levels (they were), and I decided to walk to the hospital for the test, just under a mile. Since I wasn’t tired, I decided to walk back a longer route. I grocery shopped and cooked a feast for the friend I was staying with. The next day I walked the mile and a half to the town center and did a bit of shopping.
    Mr friend said it was like being with someone on speed. When I called friends and family to tell them how I was doing they told me I sounded like I was on speed, talking a mile a minute.
    On the third night after surgery, I finally slept. I woke up to go to the bathroom, felt woozy, waited for that to clear, then stood up to go back to bed and passed out, apparently slipping down the door jamb and cutting my face on a part of the latch sticking out a bit…. I woke up on the floor, felt like I couldn’t move, called to wake my friend. Then I felt better, but she insisted on calling my doctor when office hours began; we were told to come in ASAP. I checked out perfectly, except for the cut on my cheek (which did not require stitches, fortunately).
    So, long story short, my theory was that a burst of natural thyroid hormone due to the assault on my thyroid, which surgery sure is, and something caused the tinnitus — the excess thyroid hormone? Since then, if I’ve mixed up my synthetic thyroid pill taking and taken a double dose, the tinnitus gets louder.
    I have since met others with thyroidectomies who said they could not sleep after their thyroidectomy and felt highly energetic for a brief time after surgery. Anecdotal, of course. No mention of tinnitus, but after I got more used to it I didn’t think about the tinnitus as much. It bothers me mostly when it’s quiet or I’m trying to go to sleep.
    My endo tells me my surgery could have absolutely nothing to do with this tinnitus.
    I have no idea what to do about my tinnitus, but it is not so bad that it continually bothers me. I do tend to go sleep with the radio on.

  11. A
    Reply

    You might not be able to cure your Meniere’s but there are new, clinically proven treatments for relieving tinnitus problems. I personally know audiologists who are using these treatments with great success. One of the treatments is called Neuromonics.
    PEOPLE’S PHARMACY RESPONSE: WE ARE DOING A LIVE RADIO SHOW ON TINNITUS AND THE NEUROMONICS TREATMENT ON SATURDAY, 4/2/2011.

  12. Anonymous
    Reply

    I suffer from Meneire’s disease, and the worst part is tinnitus. There is nothing to take for it, and I’ve had this problem for about 15 years. When I was first diagnosed with Meneire’s, I had suffered from vertigo. The solution for stopping the vertigo was to eliminate salt from my diet. However, the tinnitus remained. Surgery is not indicated in my case. Only the worst cases qualify for surgery (where the vertigo makes them violently ill with nausea). Those lucky enough to qualify for surgery are able to say good-bye to the fluid buildup in the inner ear. Presumably, the tinnitus will go away after surgery.
    Tinnitus (and Meneire’s) are something that I will have to live with for the rest of my life.

  13. GGD
    Reply

    Has anyone heard of using Gingko Biloba to treat tinnitus? My friend’s doctor recommended this.
    PEOPLE’S PHARMACY RESPONSE:
    We have not been able to find anything that convinces us ginkgo works for tinnitus.

  14. Ilka
    Reply

    One morning last October I woke up and I became aware of this noise in my ear. It has not left me since. There is nothing apparent that could have caused this. There is an overlay of noises which are heard together, or sometimes alone–a clicking like knitting needles with a background noise similar to water rushing through a narrow pipe. When the clicking disappears the other noise becomes much louder and high-pitched.
    I find it very difficult to sleep, and the noise often is so loud that I cannot listen to music, because I hear it over the music. I am desperate.

  15. K J Mahoney
    Reply

    I’ve had tinnitus for 40 years, usually a low-grade sizzling that I can tune out when busy with physical or mental activity; sometimes worse but bearable. Once I was tested at a tinnitus clinic, and was told they couldn’t help me because I wouldn’t (couldn’t) tell them which ear was the loudest. Glad the research is improving, but by now I’d probably miss my noises if they were gone and can’t afford to change them anyway. I know others have it far worse and I wish them luck in healing.

  16. LO
    Reply

    I hope free treatments begin soon. I’d like to learn about the acupuncture and B12. I read about Neuromonics, and put together a playlist of 70s rock and folk songs with the tinnitus sound I hear in them. I listen as I walk to work. I only hear my ringing in very quiet places or when very congested. I think I am lucky. I think my tinnitus might have begun when I learned the piccolo solo, practicing hours a day for weeks, in Stars and Stripes Forever for a bicentennial parade. I wonder if other musicians, not rock, but classical ones, got tinnitus from playing instruments.

  17. Finola
    Reply

    Thank you so much for this article. My husband is a retired field artillery officer who suffers terribly with this disorder. Other than these noises he can’t hear spit and is going deaf. This is the first ray of hope that I have read to help him.

  18. BK
    Reply

    I’ve had tinnitus off and on for several years. It seems to come and go. The last time, about 6 months ago, a therapist friend told me that I was lacking joy in my life and that was the reason for this problem. She said I should develop some affirmations to enjoy my life more and it’s worked! It took about a week before I had complete relief and no return of this dis-ease.
    My affirmations varied from: “I am a center of joyous activity!” To: “I live in joy and love!” Saying each affirmation out loud with GREAT feeling for 5 minutes twice a day did the trick. I highly suggest this method to anyone suffering like I was. Plus it’s free!
    My best to you all.

  19. ebm
    Reply

    Would you please comment on some natural treatments people have written to you about?
    I heard acupuncture and homeopathics, sublingual B12 might be helpful. My 50yr old niece in Germany tried this successfully.

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