You’re living with tinnitus and you’ve learned to adapt your life to it. In order to tune out the continuous ringing, you always leave the TV on. You refrain from going out for happy hour with coworkers because the loud music at the bar makes your tinnitus worse for days. You make appointments regularly to try out new therapies and new techniques. Eventually, your tinnitus just becomes something you integrate into your day-to-day life.
Mostly, that’s because there’s no cure for tinnitus. But that might be changing. A study published in PLOS Biology seems to give hope that we may be getting closer to a lasting and effective cure for tinnitus. In the meantime, hearing aids can really help.
Tinnitus Has a Murky Set of Causes
Tinnitus usually manifests as a buzzing or ringing in the ear (though, tinnitus could present as other sounds as well) that do not have an external cause. A disorder that affects millions of people, tinnitus is incredibly common.
It’s also a symptom, generally speaking, and not itself a cause. Tinnitus is generally caused by something else. It can be difficult to pin down the cause of tinnitus and that’s one of the reasons why a cure is so elusive. Tinnitus symptoms can develop due to several reasons.
Even the relationship between tinnitus and hearing loss is unclear. There’s a connection, sure, but not all individuals who have tinnitus also have hearing loss (and vice versa).
A New Culprit: Inflammation
Research published in PLOS Biology outlined a study led by Dr. Shaowen Bao, an associate professor of physiology at the Arizona College of Medicine in Tuscon. Mice with noise-induced tinnitus were experimented on by Dr. Bao. And the results of these experiments indicated a culprit of tinnitus: inflammation.
According to the tests and scans performed on these mice, inflammation was observed around the areas of the brain responsible for listening. As inflammation is the body’s response to damage, this finding does suggest that noise-induced hearing loss could be creating some damage we don’t really understand yet.
But new kinds of treatment are also made possible by this knowledge of inflammation. Because inflammation is something we know how to address. The symptoms of tinnitus went away when the mice were given drugs that impeded inflammation. Or, at least, those symptoms were no longer observable.
Does This Mean There’s a Pill For Tinnitus?
If you take a long enough look, you can most likely view this research and see how, one day, there might easily be a pill for tinnitus. Imagine if you could just pop a pill in the morning and keep tinnitus at bay all day without needing to turn to all those coping mechanisms.
That’s certainly the goal, but there are a number of large hurdles in the way:
- Mice were the focus of these experiments. Before this strategy is considered safe for humans, there’s still a substantial amount of work to do.
- We need to make sure any new approach is safe; it could take some time to determine particular side effects, complications, or problems connected to these specific inflammation-blocking medications.
- Not everybody’s tinnitus will be caused the same way; whether all or even most cases of tinnitus are related to some kind of inflammation is still difficult to identify.
So it may be a while before there’s a pill for tinnitus. But it’s not at all impossible. If you have tinnitus now, that represents a significant increase in hope. And, of course, this strategy in treating tinnitus is not the only one presently being researched. Every new development, every new bit of knowledge, brings that cure for tinnitus just a little bit closer.
What Can You do Now?
If you have a chronic ringing or buzzing in your ears now, the potential of a far-off pill may give you hope – but not necessarily alleviation. There are contemporary treatments for tinnitus that can produce genuine results, even if they don’t necessarily “cure” the underlying problem.
Some strategies include noise-cancellation devices or cognitive therapies designed to help you ignore the sounds linked to your tinnitus. Many individuals also find relief with hearing aids. A cure could be a number of years off, but that doesn’t mean you have to cope with tinnitus alone or unassisted. Finding a treatment that works can help you spend more time doing what you love, and less time thinking about that buzzing or ringing in your ears.