Woman with ringing in her ears.

You learn to adapt to living with tinnitus. You always keep the TV on to help you tune out the persistent ringing. 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 routinely to try out new therapies and new techniques. After a while, you simply fold your tinnitus into your everyday life.

Mostly, that’s because there’s no cure for tinnitus. But that could be changing. A study published in PLOS Biology appears to offer hope that we may be getting closer to a permanent and reliable cure for tinnitus. Until then, hearing aids can be really helpful.

The Exact Causes of Tinnitus Are Not Clear

Tinnitus normally is experienced as a ringing or buzzing in the ear (though, tinnitus could present as other sounds too) that do not have an external cause. Tinnitus is quite common and millions of individuals deal with it to some degree.

Generally speaking, tinnitus is itself a symptom of an underlying problem and not a cause in and of itself. Tinnitus is essentially caused by something else. One of the reasons why a “cure” for tinnitus is elusive is that these underlying causes can be hard to narrow down. There are several reasons why tinnitus can develop.

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

Inflammation: a New Culprit

Dr. Shaowen Bao, an associate professor at the Arizona College of Medicine in Tucson, directed a study published in PLOS Biology. Mice with noise-induced tinnitus were experimented on by Dr. Bao. And what she and her team found points to a tinnitus culprit: inflammation.

According to the tests and scans done on these mice, inflammation was seen in the areas of the brain responsible for listening. This indicates that some injury is occurring as a consequence of noise-related hearing loss which we presently don’t comprehend because inflammation is the body’s response to injury.

But new forms of treatment are also made possible by this discovery of inflammation. Because inflammation is something we know how to address. When the mice were given drugs that impeded the observed inflammation reaction, the symptoms of tinnitus disappeared. Or, at least, those symptoms were no longer observable.

Does This Mean There’s a Pill For Tinnitus?

This research does seem to suggest that, eventually, there might actually be a pill for tinnitus. Imagine that, instead of investing in these various coping mechanisms, you can just take a pill in the morning and keep your tinnitus at bay.

We might get there if we can overcome a few hurdles:

  • Not everyone’s tinnitus will have the same cause; it’s difficult to identify (at this stage) whether all or even most tinnitus is connected to inflammation of some kind.
  • First, these experiments were done on mice. And there’s a lot to do before this specific approach is considered safe and approved for humans.
  • Any new approach needs to be proven safe; it might take some time to identify particular side effects, complications, or problems linked to these specific inflammation-blocking medicines.

So, a pill for tinnitus may be a long way off. But it’s no longer impossible. If you have tinnitus now, that represents a significant increase in hope. And various other tinnitus treatments are also being researched. Every new breakthrough, every new bit of knowledge, brings that cure for tinnitus just a little bit closer.

Is There Anything You Can Do?

In the meantime, individuals with tinnitus should feel optimistic that in the future there will be a cure for tinnitus. There are contemporary treatments for tinnitus that can produce genuine results, even if they don’t necessarily “cure” the root problem.

There are cognitive treatments that help you learn to ignore tinnitus sounds and others that use noise cancellation techniques. Many individuals also find relief with hearing aids. A cure might be a number of years off, but that doesn’t mean you have to cope with tinnitus alone 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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