As a musician, your auditory health is everything. By neglecting it, you risk cutting your musical career shorter than necessary. Even worse, you can lose your ability to fully hear and enjoy your favorite music — any musician’s worst nightmare. Therefore, you should be doing everything in your power to avoid common forms of damage to your ears — starting with tinnitus.
Of all the possible risks to your auditory health, tinnitus — or ringing in your ears — deserves the most attention. This is because tinnitus is not a disease itself, but rather a symptom of a larger underlying problem within your auditory system. By addressing it early, you can catch (and even prevent) much larger, more serious issues.
However, as any Google search will tell you, finding a cure for your tinnitus can be difficult. With so many potential causes of tinnitus, it can be unclear how to go about treating your specific case.
What are the Causes of Tinnitus?
The only accurate way to describe what causes tinnitus is that it’s the result of a problem in the auditory system, often due to abnormal interactions between neural circuits. Because neural circuits connect to more parts of the brain than just those in control of processing sound, you can begin to understand the complexity behind properly treating tinnitus.
According to the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders (NIDCD), tinnitus can be the result of:
- Noise-induced hearing loss
- Ear and sinus infections
- Diseases of the heart or blood vessels
- Ménière’s disease (and consequently Vertigo)
- Brain tumors
- Hormonal changes in women
- Thyroid abnormalities
- Poor blood flow
While some of these underlying causes can be more discreet, others you can more clearly associate. For example, if you work on a loud construction site every day, especially without proper hearing protection, excessive noise could be what’s causing your tinnitus. Similarly, if you ignore that volume warning on your phone every day and blast loud music directly into your ear canals for hours on end, that could also very likely be the cause of your tinnitus.
Making matters even more complicated is that tinnitus can also result from taking certain medications. In fact, according to the NIDCD, more than 200 drugs are known to cause tinnitus upon starting (or stopping).
To help you understand if changing up your drug regimen might by the tinnitus cure for you, here’s a Harvard-curated list of some drugs that can cause or worsen tinnitus:
- Antimalarial drugs such as chloroquine and quinine
- Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, including Aspirin, ibuprofen (Motrin) and naproxen (Aleve, Naprosyn)
- Tricyclic antidepressants such as clomipramine (Anafranil), amitriptyline (Elavil, others), and imipramine (Tofranil)
- Particular anticonvulsants, including valproic acid (Depakote, others) and carbamazepine (Tegretol, others)
- Particular antibiotics, including ciprofloxacin (Cipro), doxycycline (Vibramycin, others), gentamicin (Garamycin), erythromycin (Ery-Tab, others), tetracycline (Sumycin), tobramycin (Nebcin), and vancomycin (Vancocin)
- Particular cancer drugs, including vincristine (Oncovin, Vincasar) and cisplatin (Platinol)
- Loop diuretics (when given intravenously in high doses), including bumetanide (Bumex), furosemide (Lasix), and torsemide (Demadex)
Of course, you should consult with your doctor before making changes to any of your medications. Consulting with your doctor can also be the fastest way to unearth the cause of your tinnitus in general. Through the right questions and testing, your doctor can more quickly help you identify if your tinnitus is the result of something easy to fix, or if it’s something that requires more serious attention.
A doctor might identify an issue related more to lifestyle choice than anything. For example, jaw clenching, teeth grinding while sleeping, or muscle tension in your neck caused by poor diet, sedentary living, lack of sleep, or high-stress levels may be causing your tinnitus.
With so many potential causes, no single treatment will work for all people with tinnitus. However, let’s take a look at some of the more common forms of treatment that can provide a starting point.
What are the Treatments for Tinnitus?
With no current cure for tinnitus, the best thing you can do is to either treat the underlying cause of your tinnitus or find a treatment method that helps you better tolerate your symptoms on a day-to-day basis.
According to the NIDCD, other viable forms of tinnitus treatment options worth exploring with your doctor include:
- Hearing aids
- Wearable sound generators
- Tabletop sound generators
- Acoustic neural stimulation
- Cochlear implants
- Antidepressants, antianxiety drugs, and other medications
If your doctor determines your tinnitus isn’t a symptom of a more serious disease or condition, experimenting with different lifestyle choices is a good place to start. For example, your doctor (or dentist) may tell you that you grind your teeth in your sleep. After some thought, you realize that new job you started recently has you feeling more stressed out than usual. By focusing on de-stressing, you may then find that your teeth grinding stops, which consequently alleviates your tinnitus. While this is just one simple example, you can apply this line of thinking to all sorts of other lifestyle choices relating to profession, diet, physical activity, and other areas.
If, for whatever reason, you’re unable to change a situation, like a musician who performs live music regularly, the next best thing you can do is wear high fidelity earplugs. Because excessive noise is one of the most common causes of tinnitus, getting earplugs for tinnitus symptoms can alleviate symptoms and help ensure your tinnitus doesn’t get any worse than it already is.
Even if you aren’t a musician or don’t have tinnitus, we are all exposed to potentially harmful noise every day and should be prioritizing our hearing heath. Investing in high quality hearing protection can help prevent tinnitus and other noise-induced issues, especially if you spend a lot of time in loud environments, such as construction sites and music venues, or are regularly exposed to sound, either at work or on the weekends.
After all, the best form of treatment is prevention.