Woman with ringing in her ears.

You learn to adapt to living with tinnitus. In order to drown out the constant ringing, you always keep the TV on. You avoid going out for happy hour with friends because the loud music at the bar makes your tinnitus worse for days. You make appointments regularly to try new therapies and new treatments. Over time, you simply fold your tinnitus into your everyday life.

Mostly, that’s because there’s no cure for tinnitus. But that could be changing. Research published in PLOS Biology seems to give hope that we could be getting closer to a lasting and reliable cure for tinnitus. In the meantime, hearing aids can really help.

The Precise Causes of Tinnitus Are Unclear

Tinnitus normally is experienced as a ringing or buzzing 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 individuals, tinnitus is very common.

Generally speaking, tinnitus is itself a symptom of an underlying condition and not a cause in and of itself. In other words, something causes tinnitus – there’s an underlying problem that causes tinnitus symptoms. It can be difficult to pin down the cause of tinnitus and that’s one reason why a cure is so evasive. There are several reasons why tinnitus can manifest.

Even the connection between tinnitus and hearing loss is unclear. Some individuals who have tinnitus do have hearing loss but some don’t.

Inflammation: a New Culprit

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. Dr. Bao performed experiments on mice who had tinnitus triggered by noise-induced hearing loss. And what she and her team discovered points to a tinnitus culprit: inflammation.

According to the tests and scans performed on these mice, inflammation was discovered in the areas of the brain responsible for listening. This indicates that some damage is happening as a consequence of noise-induced hearing loss which we presently don’t understand because inflammation is the body’s response to injury.

But this knowledge of inflammation also brings about the possibility of a new form of treatment. Because we know (broadly speaking) how to handle inflammation. 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 view, you can probably view this research and see how, eventually, there may easily be a pill for tinnitus. Imagine that, rather than investing in these numerous coping mechanisms, you can simply take a pill in the morning and keep your tinnitus at bay.

That’s certainly the goal, but there are numerous huge hurdles in the way:

  • Mice were the focus of these experiments. Before this approach is considered safe for humans, there’s still a substantial amount of work to do.
  • The precise cause of tinnitus will be distinct from person to person; it’s hard to know (at this time) whether all or even most tinnitus is related to inflammation of some sort.
  • We need to make sure any new approach is safe; these inflammation blocking medications will need to be tested over time to rule out side effects and any potential complications.

So, a pill for tinnitus may be a long way off. But it’s not at all 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.

What Can You do Today?

If you have a relentless ringing or buzzing in your ears now, the potential of a far-off pill may provide you with hope – but not necessarily relief. There are contemporary treatments for tinnitus that can provide real results, even if they don’t necessarily “cure” the root issue.

Some approaches include noise-cancellation devices or cognitive therapies designed to help you ignore the sounds related to your tinnitus. Hearing aids often provide relief for many individuals. A cure could be a number of years off, but that doesn’t mean you have to deal with tinnitus by yourself or unassisted. Finding a treatment that is effective can help you spend more time doing what you love, and less time thinking about that buzzing or ringing in your ears.

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References

https://journals.plos.org/plosbiology/article?id=10.1371/journal.pbio.3000307
https://uanews.arizona.edu/story/brain-inflammation-identified-potential-target-treat-tinnitus

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