Natural Remedies for Tinnitus

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Tinnitus is when you hear ringing or other noises in one or both ears. The noise is not caused by an external sound but occurs when there is something wrong with the auditory system, which includes the ear, the auditory nerve, and parts of the brain that process sound.

There is no single effective treatment for tinnitus. For some people, the only option is to manage the symptom or undergo counseling to better cope. While there are medications and devices that can help make the noise less bothersome, there may not be anything that can eliminate the noise entirely.

It is for this reason that people with tinnitus will sometimes turn to complementary and alternative medicine to gain control over this common and disruptive symptom. This article explores several options and what the current research says about their effectiveness.

Woman outside in front of ginkgo biloba trees, holding ginkgo biloba leaf
Meng Yiren / Moment / Getty Images

Ginkgo Biloba

Gingko biloba is a herb used in alternative medicine to treat a variety of health conditions, including anxiety, asthma, diabetes, erectile dysfunction, fatigue, glaucoma, high blood pressure.

Tinnitus is among the list of symptoms that Gingko biloba is said to treat. Some people believe that it can improve blood flow, reduce inflammation, and alter the way that nerve cells work. It is possible that these effects can improve tinnitus in some people.

So far, the evidence of this is lacking. A 2013 review in the Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews could find no evidence that Gingko biloba was useful in treating people with tinnitus as the main concern. In people with Alzheimer's disease or vascular dementia, there was a small but significant improvement in tinnitus symptoms.

A 2017 review in the International Tinnitus Journal concluded that evidence was mixed as to whether Gingko biloba could help. In their conclusion, the researchers stated that "Ginkgo biloba may somewhat improve tinnitus."

Recap

There is no clear evidence that Gingko biloba can help treat tinnitus. Some studies have reported improvement, but the results have not been consistent.

Acupuncture

Acupuncture is used in traditional Chinese medicine to treat numerous medical conditions, including tinnitus. Acupuncture is claimed to restore the flow of the body's life energy, call “qi," and, by doing so, improve health.

A 2012 review in the BMC Complementary and Alternative Medicine involving nine randomized controlled trials concluded that the size and quality of the studies "were not sufficient for drawing definitive conclusions." The quality of the studies was generally poor.

A 2015 review in the European Archives of Otorhinolaryngology compared Chinese- and English-language studies on the subject. The researchers reported that almost all Chinese studies reported improvement in tinnitus symptoms, while almost all English studies did not. Biases and flaws were noted in many of the studies, especially the Chinese ones.

In the end, the researchers wrote was that acupuncture "may offer subjective benefit in some," suggesting that the benefit may be more perceived than real.

Recap

There is no convincing evidence that acupuncture can help treat tinnitus. Because the results can vary from one person to the next, some researchers suggest that the benefit, if any, may be subjective.

Zinc Supplements

The essential mineral zinc aids the transmission of nerve signals to the brain, including those involved in hearing. Some scientists believe that zinc deficiency can interfere with those signals and contribute to tinnitus. There is debate as to whether this is true.

A 2015 study in the American Journal of Otolaryngology reported low levels of zinc in 100 older adults with tinnitus. The findings, while interesting, were limited by the fact that zinc deficiency is common in the United States, affecting 35% to 45% of older adults.

Even so, some studies suggest that zinc supplements may be of help. A 2013 study in Otology and Neurotology reported that 5% of the participants given a zinc supplement reported a subjective improvement in tinnitus symptoms, compared to 2% of those given a placebo. Even so, the difference was not statistically significant.

Some studies suggest that zinc supplements may help improve tinnitus in a small percentage of people. But the quality of the evidence is not strong.

Biofeedback

Biofeedback involves learning to control vital functions like heart rate and breathing that are normally unconscious. It is often used to help treat tension headaches and insomnia or to reduce a person's response to chronic pain.

Unlike the other alternative treatments, biofeedback is not intended to reduce tinnitus symptoms. Instead, it is used to decrease tinnitus-related distress. By doing so, a person can learn to cope with tinnitus and improve their quality of life.

A 2009 study in the British Journal of Clinical Psychology suggested that the combination of biofeedback and cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), or talk therapy, was useful in people with chronic tinnitus.

A form of biofeedback called neurofeedback, in which you learn to control brain waves on a portable machine, also appears to be useful. According to a 2017 review in Frontiers in Aging Neurology, neurofeedback "may be a promising method" for some types of tinnitus. Further research is needed.

Recap

Biofeedback is used to reduce tinnitus-related distress. By doing so, a person can learn to better cope with the symptom. The current evidence suggests that biofeedback may be of help.

Summary

Tinnitus is a distressing condition that can affect a person's quality of life. There are currently no treatments that are consistently effective in all people.

Complementary and alternative treatments like Gingko biloba, acupuncture, and zinc supplements might help some people, but the evidence is weak and mixed. The benefit, if any, appears to be largely subjective.

Biofeedback may help reduce tinnitus-related distress and help you better cope with the symptom. Even so, further research is needed to confirm how useful biofeedback is in treating tinnitus.

A Word From Verywell

Due to the lack of research, it's too soon to recommend any of these remedies as a treatment for tinnitus. If you're considering trying any of them, speak with your doctor to weigh the potential risks and benefits. 

Although it can be frustrating to learn that it may not be possible to eliminate tinnitus, there are strategies that can help you cope. Ask your doctor for a referral to a specialist known as an otolaryngologist (an ENT doctor), who can recommend medical and non-medical ways to manage your tinnitus symptoms.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • Can tinnitus be cured?

    At present, there are no drugs specifically recommended to treat tinnitus and nothing has been proven to cure the condition.

  • Can acupuncture help relieve tinnitus?

    A systematic review published in 2012 could not find any clear evidence of a benefit. One of the nine reviewed studies suggested that acupuncture was beneficial in people with nervous tinnitus, but none were able to demonstrate the same in those with aging-related senile tinnitus.

  • Can zinc supplements help treat tinnitus?

    A 2016 Cochrane review could find no evidence of a benefit based on three randomized controlled studies involving 209 people with tinnitus. None of the studies reported any significant change in the loudness of tinnitus after zinc supplementation.

  • Can meditation help treat tinnitus?

    There is evidence that it can based on a 2019 review of studies in the Frontiers of Neurology. In the same way that cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) can reduce tinnitus-related distress, meditation appears to help by alleviating anxiety and improving coping skills.

  • Can Gingko biloba help treat tinnitus?

    There is no evidence that it can, according to a 2013 Cochrane review involving 1,543 people with tinnitus. The only improvement was seen in people with Alzheimer's disease or vascular dementia, but no other user reported any change in their status after using Gingko biloba.

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