A chronic ringing or buzzing in the ears is associated with a condition known as tinnitus. According to the Mayo Clinic (2019), about 15-20 percent of people in the U.S. currently experience tinnitus.
Tinnitus is not itself a disorder, but rather a symptom of another condition like ear injuries. Mayo Clinic (2019) details two types of tinnitus. The first is the most common type known as subjective tinnitus, which involves a noise that only the person can hear. The second involves objective tinnitus. Objective tinnitus is much rarer and involves noise that both a doctor and the person can hear through careful examination.
What causes Tinnitus?
The Mayo Clinic (2019) details numerous possible causes:
Age-related hearing loss, exposure to loud noise, earwax blockage, stiffening of the ear bones, Meniere’s disease, problems with the temporomandibular (joint where jaw meets skull), head or neck injuries, acoustic neuroma (benign tumors), eustachian tube dysfunction, muscle spasms in the inner ear, atherosclerosis (stiffening of vessels in ear), high blood pressure, and issues with blood flow.
The Mayo Clinic (2019) also listed different medications that contribute to tinnitus:
Antibiotics, cancer medications like Trexall, diuretics, quinine medications, antidepressants, and aspirin in high doses.
What are typical treatments?
The following methods are utilized to address tinnitus:
- Earwax removal
- Treating blood vessels around ear
- Medication change
- Noise suppression (e.g. white noise, hearing aids, and masking devices)
The following lifestyle changes are also suggested:
- Avoid irritants
- Reduce exposure to loud noise
- Reduce stress
- Reduce alcohol consumption
The following alternative approaches have also been suggested:
- Ginkgo biloba
- Melatonin Zinc supplements
- B vitamins
- Neuromodulation with transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS)
Research on neurofeedback and tinnitus
Neurofeedback is a newer approach to treating tinnitus. Still, there is a significant amount of research showing the effectiveness of neurofeedback for people with tinnitus. The most common theme in the research on neurofeedback treatment for tinnitus is promise. Many researchers studying this treatment approach concluded that there is significant promise in using neurofeedback with people experiencing tinnitus. For example, Dohrmann, Weisz, Schlee, Hartmann, and Elbert, (2007) obtained significant findings on the benefits of using neurofeedback with individuals experiencing tinnitus. Most of the neurofeedback researched involves rewarding alpha frequencies and inhibiting delta frequencies, which led to a reduction or elimination of experiences with tinnitus. Crocetti, Forti, and Del Bo (2011) supported the previous study’s findings in that participants also reduced experiences with tinnitus after receiving similar neurofeedback training. The consensus among many researchers is that neurofeedback continues to be a promising new approach to treating tinnitus.
Please refer to References list for a guide to some research on neurofeedback and tinnitus.
Crocetti, A., Forti, S., & Del Bo, L. (2011). Neurofeedback for subjective tinnitus patients. Auris Nasus Larynx, 38(6), 735-738.
Dohrmann, K., Weisz, N., Schlee, W., Hartmann, T., & Elbert, T. (2007). Neurofeedback for treating tinnitus. Progress in brain research, 166, 473-554.
Emmert, K., Kopel, R., Koush, Y., Maire, R., Senn, P., Van De Ville, D., & Haller, S. (2017). Continuous vs. intermittent neurofeedback to regulate auditory cortex activity of tinnitus patients using real-time fMRI-A pilot study. NeuroImage: Clinical, 14, 97-104.
Güntensperger, D., Thüring, C., Kleinjung, T., Neff, P., & Meyer, M. (2019). Investigating the Efficacy of an Individualized Alpha/Delta Neurofeedback Protocol in the Treatment of Chronic Tinnitus. Neural plasticity, 2019.
Hartmann, T., Lorenz, I., Müller, N., Langguth, B., & Weisz, N. (2014). The effects of neurofeedback on oscillatory processes related to tinnitus. Brain Topography, 27(1), 149-157.
Milner, R., Lewandowska, M., Ganc, M., Cieśla, K., Niedziałek, I., & Skarżyński, H. (2016). Slow cortical potential neurofeedback in chronic tinnitus therapy: a case report. Applied psychophysiology and biofeedback, 41(2), 225-249.
Tinnitus – Symptoms and causes. (2019). Retrieved 26 December 2019, from https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/tinnitus/symptoms-causes/syc-20350156
Vanneste, S., Joos, K., Ost, J., & De Ridder, D. (2018). Influencing connectivity and cross-frequency coupling by real-time source localized neurofeedback of the posterior cingulate cortex reduces tinnitus related distress. Neurobiology of stress, 8, 211-224.
Zhao, Z. Q., Lei, G. X., Li, Y. L., Zhang, D., Shen, W. D., Yang, S. M., & Qiao, Y. H. (2018). Neurofeedback therapy in the treatment of tinnitus. Lin chuang er bi yan hou tou jing wai ke za zhi= Journal of clinical otorhinolaryngology, head, and neck surgery, 32(3), 233-236.