How to Stop That Ringing in Your Ears

Most folks have had the so-called earworm inside their minds...

That's when a song gets stuck in your head, playing over and over and over.

For my research assistant, the recent Disney movie Encanto has a song – "We Don't Talk About Bruno" – that has that effect on her. Sometimes, she'll start hearing it play in her mind out of the blue.

While earworms can be a little annoying, they don't often last the day, and there are ways to get songs out of your head.

But some folks suffer from a different type of noise in their ears, which can seriously degrade your mental and physical health – tinnitus.

We've had lots of readers write in about this problem. So today, we'll explain what it is, why you get it, and ways to get rid of it...

What is tinnitus?

Tinnitus is a disorder that's characterized by ringing in the ears...

There's also pulsatile tinnitus, which beats in time with your heart...  musical tinnitus, where you hear familiar songs over and over... and then there's your regular old "garden variety" tinnitus, that sounds like:

  • Ringing
  • Buzzing
  • Roaring
  • Hissing
  • Clicking
  • Whooshing
  • Humming
  • Or a combination of those elements

The sounds may be high or low pitched and could occur in one or both ears. Nearly 10% of adults in the U.S. (25 million people) have experienced tinnitus for at least 5 minutes in the past year. As many as 50 million Americans have likely experienced tinnitus at some point in their life. And your chances of developing tinnitus increase as you age.

Tinnitus is an auditory hallucination, commonly experienced as ringing in the ears. Most of us have experienced ringing in our ears before, but some people have the ringing constantly. For some, it's so bad that it hinders sleep, concentration, and communication.

What causes tinnitus?

There are lots of minor causes behind the ringing... Hearing loss, circulatory issues, certain medications – including antidepressants and nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (known as NSAIDs, such as aspirin and ibuprofen) – or even an injury to your head, neck, or ear can all lead to tinnitus. But about 90% of cases are caused by exposure to prolonged loud noise.

What are the long-term health consequences?

Tinnitus leads to sleep deprivation, poor concentration, and reduced hearing. Anxiety, depression, and headaches can also occur over time. These issues also have a habit of compounding and leading to other issues like irritability, daytime fatigue, and memory problems.

Does it eventually just go away on its own?

On average, an episode of tinnitus lasts 16 to 48 hours. And most new cases resolve themselves within six to 12 months of onset. But for some, tinnitus is permanent. The best way to know how long your tinnitus will last is to understand what is causing it.

Is there a cure?

Unfortunately, there's no definitive cure for tinnitus...

Instead, you can reduce your risk of tinnitus by keeping the volume down in your headphones and wearing protective ear gear, like earplugs, when you're in a location with extremely loud noises (like concerts, car races, or like me... on airplanes).

Possible treatments depend on the underlying cause of your tinnitus. For example, if you have a sinus infection causing tinnitus, clearing the infection can help.

There's also some evidence that taking a magnesium supplement may help people who already have moderate to severe tinnitus. One belief is that people with tinnitus don't have enough magnesium in their bodies.

If you're worried about tinnitus, or already have it, you can try upping the magnesium in your diet instead of heading straight for a supplement. A healthy intake of magnesium is about 320 mg a day for women, while men need about 420 mg.

Three foods to help you increase your magnesium intake are nuts, seeds, and green leafy vegetables. A handful of almonds has 76 mg of magnesium, a quarter of a cup of pumpkin seeds has 190 mg, and a cup of spinach has 157 mg. Green vegetables are green because of chlorophyll... in the center of the chlorophyll molecule sits magnesium. Eat your greens!

What We're Reading...

Here's to our health, wealth, and a great retirement,

Dr. David Eifrig and the Health & Wealth Bulletin Research Team
June 21, 2022