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Tinnitus "Cures" Are Going Viral, But How Can You Tell Fact From Fiction?

We spoke to an audiologist to help us wade through the misinformation.

Laura Simmons - Editor and Staff Writer

Laura Simmons

Laura Simmons - Editor and Staff Writer

Laura Simmons

Editor and Staff Writer

Laura is an editor and staff writer at IFLScience. She obtained her Master's in Experimental Neuroscience from Imperial College London.

Editor and Staff Writer

Edited by Francesca Benson
author

Francesca Benson

Copy Editor and Staff Writer

Francesca Benson is a Copy Editor and Staff Writer with a MSci in Biochemistry from the University of Birmingham.

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man in yellow sweater covering ears and grimacing, with blue background

Living with constant buzzing or ringing in the ears could have anyone seeking the services of Dr Google.

Image credit: PeopleImages.com - Yuri A/Shutterstock.com

When we’re diagnosed with a medical condition, often the first place we look to for information and advice is the internet. Online communities can be powerful support and advocacy networks, particularly for those with long-term health conditions. They can also provide important data that alerts medical researchers to a problem, as we saw with long COVID at the start of the pandemic. 

But we also know that social media is not always the most reliable source. It can be difficult to sift through the misinformation – but when it comes to our health, getting the wrong information could have serious consequences.

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Tinnitus is a common condition causing a persistent ringing, buzzing, or whining noise in the ears. One study estimated that it affects more than 740 million adults worldwide. There’s no cure, but a quick online search will highlight a number of “treatments” that have been touted across different social media platforms. We spoke to audiologist Jodi Sasaki-Miraglia, Director of Professional Education Programs for hearing aid manufacturer Widex USA, to learn more about the misinformation surrounding tinnitus.

What causes tinnitus?

“Tinnitus is very often caused by noise-induced hearing loss,” Sasaki-Miraglia told IFLScience. “When a musician is exposed to loud noise, whether at a concert or in their everyday lives, tiny hair cells in their ears, which send signals to the brain, get damaged.”

“As the ear’s hair cells flatten, two things happen. First, the person loses hearing. Second, the system begins misfiring signals to the brain, resulting in what sounds like ringing, buzzing, or whining. But it really isn’t sound at all and no one else can hear it.”

Sometimes, the ringing sound is brought on by medication, an ear infection, an injury to the head or neck, or even excessive earwax. It can occur in one or both ears. Sometimes it can go away on its own – but when it becomes chronic, it can have a significant effect on day-to-day life.

diagram of inner ear showing noise from earbuds, then zoomed-in illustration of ear hair cells in both damaged and undamaged states
Sasaki-Miraglia likened noise-induced damage to hair cells in the ear to repeatedly trampling a lawn of pristine grass.
Image credit: Sakurra/Shutterstock.com


There are also some more unusual forms such as pulsatile tinnitus, in which the sounds you hear are in rhythm with your heartbeat. This rarer subtype can be a sign of an underlying health condition, so it’s important to speak to a healthcare provider if you think you may have this type of tinnitus. 

What NOT to do to treat tinnitus

Living with a constant buzzing or ringing in your ears can be extremely challenging, so it’s understandable that people will be tempted to try just about anything to find some relief. Unfortunately, as one 2019 study in the Hearing Journal found, information about the condition on social media is plagued with falsehoods and misleading claims.

“The findings are shocking,” Sasaki-Miraglia explained to IFLScience. “Forty-four percent of public Facebook groups and 30 percent of YouTube video results contained misinformation. Out of all Twitter accounts, 34 percent contained what was classified as misinformation.”

And that was back in 2019. Today, in the age of TikTok, the problem is arguably worse than ever. 

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But just what are some of these tinnitus “cures”?

Dietary changes

“On TikTok, lifestyle recommendations are more bizarre than ever, such as cutting out milk, adhering to an anti-inflammatory diet, or even no longer drinking tap water,” said Sasaki-Miraglia, but the idea of modifying your diet to cure your tinnitus goes back much further than that. Unfortunately, there’s little evidence of a quick dietary fix.

“While it’s true that certain individuals have reported that caffeine and alcohol consumption made their tinnitus worse, no diet or lifestyle change will cure your tinnitus entirely,” Sasaki-Miraglia said.

Home remedies

Many of the videos, posts, and tweets analyzed in the 2019 study included mentions of supplements, oils, and ear drops that can supposedly “cure” tinnitus. 

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“Several products and supplements are sold and marketed across social media platforms, with some priced in the hundreds of dollars,” Sasaki-Miraglia explained to IFLScience. 

The dietary supplement industry is a behemoth, and it’s estimated that the global market will be worth $300 billion by 2028. Regulations around dietary supplements vary considerably, and products marketed as potential treatments for conditions may not be held to the same efficacy and safety standards as traditional pharmaceuticals. 

But where there have been clinical studies, they have often produced less-than-impressive results. 

“Many of these products [for tinnitus] have undergone in-depth clinical investigation, all of which revealed meager benefits aside from a potential placebo effect,” said Sasaki-Miraglia. 

Physical exercises

On TikTok, there’s one class of viral tinnitus “cures” that appears more than any other. “Strangely, physical exercises appear the most,” Sasaki-Miraglia told IFLScience. “Again, many are flat out weird like tapping a spoon under your earlobe or pressing on your pressure points.”

“However, the most 'viral' exercise of all is actually pretty simple. The technical term is ‘Suboccipital Muscle Release,’ but it just involves covering your ears and tapping your fingers several times on the back of your head.”

The theory behind it is that the suboccipital muscles at the base of the skull and upper spine can easily become tense or tight – anyone who spends a lot of time sitting at a desk will know this only too well! In some individuals, it’s been suggested that there could be a connection between this muscular tension and their tinnitus symptoms, and that the tapping helps to relieve the tension.

However, Sasaki-Miraglia believes there could be something a bit different going on.

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“What’s more likely happening is a physical form of tinnitus masking, which involves introducing external sounds, often referred to as 'masking sounds,' to help reduce the perception of the tinnitus sound or to make it less noticeable.”

“When one thumps the back of their head with ears covered, the sound resonates and sort of feels like your head is in the inside of a drum. So, instead of masking tinnitus sounds with white noise for instance, the person is doing so with drum-like sounds inside their head.”

What can you do to help combat tinnitus?

So we’ve covered what not to do, or at least which social media “cures” you’d be better off ignoring. But are there any treatments that do help?

The most important thing, according to Sasaki-Miraglia, is to seek help from a qualified professional.

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“There is no cure for tinnitus. There are, however, legitimate, science-based treatments and therapies that can help people manage their symptoms and improve quality of life,” she explained. 

“According to the Mayo Clinic, 90 percent of those with tinnitus have some underlying form of hearing loss, meaning that in many cases, the sound amplification reintroduced by modern hearing aids goes a long way toward dissipating the effects of tinnitus.”

Widex USA is currently working on another innovative way to use hearing aids in the treatment of tinnitus. It relies on a type of sound therapy called fractal sound stimulation. A processor within the hearing aid generates predictable – but never-repeating – tones that have a relaxing effect and help the brain habituate to the underlying repetitive ringing of the tinnitus.

The system, called Widex SoundRelax, is part of an ongoing study, but preliminary results published in 2023 showed that 80 percent of participants had experienced an improvement in the severity of their tinnitus.

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Recent years have also seen the development of a number of smartphone app-based approaches to treating tinnitus in a convenient and easily accessible way. One group reported “encouraging results” from their personalized app in 2022 with the hope of larger trials in the near future, while another study just this year demonstrated the potential of a cognitive behavioral therapy approach delivered via a virtual coach called Tinnibot.  

With research progressing into these targeted treatments, the future looks a bit brighter for those with tinnitus. In the meantime, Sasaki-Miraglia told IFLScience about some other things you can try to help relieve the symptoms.

The first step is to minimize any further damage to the ears by “reducing exposure to extremely loud noise or wearing hearing protection,” she explained.

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“Many individuals experiencing tinnitus find it helpful to avoid total silence. The quieter the environment, the more noticeable your tinnitus will be.” White noise machines, air conditioners, dehumidifiers, and fans can all help provide some background noise.

“You’d want to believe something or someone can help”

Researching a medical condition online is often part of the diagnosis journey. It’s totally understandable to want to seek advice and help from other people who may be dealing with the same things you are. But it’s also vital to remember that you can’t trust everything you read.

“False or sensationalized information on social media can amplify existing anxiety and stress, leading to worsened psychological symptoms. The emotional baggage of living with tinnitus is hard enough. Inaccurate information and false hope will only make the experience worse,” Sasaki-Miraglia told IFLScience.

“Wading through so many untruths can be a daunting challenge for anyone diagnosed with tinnitus. The reality is checking facts can be time-consuming and a large amount of the misinformation provided can be enticing. If you’ve been suffering from a condition that’s said to be incurable, of course you’d want to believe something or someone can help.”

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“However, for both new tinnitus sufferers and those already well acquainted with the symptoms, it’s critical to resist the temptation.”

All “explainer” articles are confirmed by fact checkers to be correct at time of publishing. Text, images, and links may be edited, removed, or added to at a later date to keep information current. 

The content of this article is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of qualified health providers with questions you may have regarding medical conditions.


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  • tag
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  • Tinnitus

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