Ear, Nose & Throat
April 8, 2016

There’s help for that ringing in your ears


Tinnitus doesn’t have to rule your life. We’ve got answers.

Got a ringing or clicking in your ear? You’re not alone. About 15 percent of the U.S. population experiences some form of tinnitus, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control. That’s more than 50 million Americans.


What is tinnitus?

Tinnitus is often associated with a ringing in the ear, but it can also be a roaring, hissing, clicking, buzzing, whistling or chirping.

“Tinnitus is an auditory phantom sound that is heard when there is no actual external sound present,” explains Kenneth E. Watford, a doctor of nursing practice at the Vanderbilt Bill Wilkerson Center of Otolaryngology and Communication Sciences. “For some patients, the tone might intermittently change. It might also sound differently in one ear versus the other.”


What’s the difference between primary and secondary tinnitus?

Tinnitus might be related to another underlying medical condition. If your tinnitus is not related to another condition, it is considered primary, Watford says. However, if another medical condition is causing the tinnitus, it is considered secondary.

Conditions that could cause secondary tinnitus include: Meniere’s disease (a disorder of the inner ear that may cause episodes of vertigo), Eustachian tube dysfunction (the Eustachian tube is blocked or does not open properly), hearing loss, cerumen impaction (earwax buildup), otosclerosis (abnormal bone remodeling in the middle ear that causes hearing loss), nasal allergies, and anxiety or depression.

“Certain medications, such as aspirin, can also cause tinnitus,” Watford adds. “Poorly managed emotional stress is one of the leading causes of secondary tinnitus.”


What are the treatments for tinnitus?

Mindfulness and meditation techniques have proved helpful in cases of tinnitus. Prolonged emotional stress stimulates the sympathetic nervous system (fight or flight response), which then increases nerve activity in the brain, Watford says, and that might indirectly increase the severity of tinnitus.

“By learning to reduce stimulation of the sympathetic nervous system, and instead stimulate the parasympathetic nervous system (calming and well-being response),” Watford explains, “tinnitus tends to improve, and the patient experiences more peace of mind.”

Watford and his co-workers work closely with Vanderbilt’s Osher Center for integrative medicine to help patients with these calming techniques.

For patients with hearing loss, hearing aids can be helpful. Other methods include tinnitus retraining therapy and neuromonics tinnitus treatment.

Tinnitus retraining therapy (developed by Dr. Pawel Jastreboff while at the University of Maryland) uses external sound-generation devices in the ears. Neuromonics tinnitus treatment (developed by Australian Dr. Paul Davis) uses neuromonics sound processors to deliver acoustic stimuli that can retrain nerve pathways and thereby reduce the emotional response to tinnitus.



The Vanderbilt Bill Wilkerson Center specializes in ear, nose and throat diseases, and communication disorders such as hearing, speech, language and voice problems. Learn more here.

10 thoughts on “There’s help for that ringing in your ears”

  1. Sheila says:

    What can help with Vertigo ? My husband started in last Sept. With it takes meds everyday , still gets dizzy any time he looks up or turns his head quick?

    1. Janet says:

      There is a treatment that involves simply turning your head in a specific manner, if the vertigo is related to the movement of tiny calcium deposits in your ear. The turning movements are usually done under the care of a physical therapist, I think.

  2. Ken Watford says:

    Shelia- This sounds like benign paroxysmal positional vertigo (BPPV), which is the #1 cause of vertigo. This condition is caused when crystals in the inner ear get out of place. Certain changes of head positional will cause vertigo that usually lasts for less than 1 minute. Rolling over in bed while lying flat sometimes triggers it. It can be cured quite easily by performing a 3 minute Epley maneuver, which is designed to “put the crystals back in place”.

  3. Angel says:

    Sheila – you need to rule out an underlying neurological disorder called Chiari Malformation especially if he has any headaches, neck or shoulder pain. He will need and MRI that specifically looks for this. I’m not a medical professional, but it reminds me of my own journey. I was treated for Menieres Disease for 3 years without benefit before finding the Chiari. Do some research and see if you should discuss with his medical team.

    1. Jerri says:

      I have meneriers been in treatment, not working , what is your treatment, how is this done.

  4. sharon Hillis says:

    Have had right ear ringing for about 10 months. Dr. told me stress. I have had a stressful job and illness in the family. Would like to follow this to see if it could be of help to me.

  5. Linda moss says:

    go to scds support group on facebook. he probably has the rare condition that myself and several others are dealing with. if u have any questions u may email me

  6. Tom Bulla says:

    I have had tinnitus for many years, and although it affects my ability to hear in some situations, I don’t see anything to “cure” it. I have learned to live with it.

  7. James says:

    My right ear has been ringing since 1989 after firing my weapon in the military. I thought it would go away but it never did. i have learned to live with the ringing but within the last 6 months the ringing has become much louder. Tonight as I write this after looking for any kind of treatment online I have had anxiety attacks. This has only happened since the ringing became louder. Tonight is the 3 time for this to happen. It is very scary. Nothing helps other than me trying to do something to make myself not think of the ringing. I have no idea what to do. I have been to the VA about it but they have no solution. I feel hopeless. The ringing is something you can no distance yourself from. HELP !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    1. My Southern Health says:

      James, are in Nashville by any chance? The Vanderbilt Bill Wilkerson Center specializes in ear, nose, and throat diseases, and communication disorders such as hearing, speech, language, and voice problems. See more details at this link: http://www.vanderbilthealth.com/billwilkerson/

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