Finally, a treatment for that buzzing in your ears
May 24th, 2012
06:31 PM ET

Finally, a treatment for that buzzing in your ears

Imagine the incessant, grating sound of buzzing in your ears - or constant beeping, whistling, dripping, or clicking.  Imagine the chatter of crickets or birds resonating in your head all day long.

Then realize that there are no actual birds or crickets. No dripping faucet. No clicking or whistling happening in the vicinity.

That is a small glimpse of life with tinnitus:  The perception of sound, that doesn't exist, manufactured by the brain.  

"I hear tree frogs and crickets and bugs, and really loud noise on top of that," said Ginny Morrell, 60, who has suffered with tinnitus for two years. "It started one day and never went away. It never wavers, 24 hours a day."

Morrell says she fills her life with sound - a radio during the day, a television droning in the background while she sleeps - as a way to drown out the din.  It's a distraction that sometimes works.

"It's not going to kill me, it's not cancer," said Morrell.  "But it might drive me crazy."

But according to a new study, the most effective treatment for Morrell's tinnitus may involve just the opposite of what she's currently doing: Rather than ignoring the sound, focus on it.

"In the study we thought, what if we try to intervene in this avoidance behavior and we expose patients to their tinnitus sounds," said Rilana Cima, the study's lead author and a clinical psychologist at Adelante Centre of Expertise in Rehabilitation and Audiology in the Netherlands.  "If you expose people to something they're afraid of, they actually habituate to this stimulation."

Cima compares the approach, which has its roots in cognitive behavioral therapy, to helping people with a spider phobia to slowly stem that fear.  Intermittent exposure to a spider - or in the case of tinnitus, that annoying buzzing - may temper the fear associated with it.

The study, conducted in the Netherlands, involved 492 patients. Half received an audiological work-up and no other structured treatment, while the other half received integrated care, including tinnitus-focused cognitive behavioral therapy. 

The therapy included having patients perform mundane, everyday tasks, while being exposed to whatever sound is associated with their tinnitus. 

"People usually avoid their own sound," said Cima.  "So they practice paying attention to their sound and what reactions they're having because of that sound."

Among the group who got the therapy, about 70% reported improvements in their quality of life or decreased tinnitus a year after beginning treatment. 

Importantly, for a malady that has its roots in the brain, many patients also reported improvements in tinnitus-related fear and anxiety. 

"The sound didn't disappear but fear reactions did," said Cima.

What makes tinnitus so difficult to treat is that it is virtually impossible to pinpoint the origin of the sound (there is no established neural origin for the condition) and each sufferer's experience is unique.  That makes it difficult to craft a treatment that works for everyone.

The study, published today in the Lancet, is one of the first rigorous trials suggesting relief for the approximately 50 million tinnitus sufferers in the U.S., according to the American Tinnitus Association.

Richard Salvi, a tinnitus expert with the Center for Hearing & Deafness at the University of Buffalo, said the study is important and should be encouraging for people like Morrell.  But, he adds, most tinnitus sufferers are looking for a cure.

"Many tinnitus patients expect immediate and complete cessation of their tinnitus," said Salvi in an email to CNN.  "None of the current treatments meet these patient expectations. Consequently, much more work needs to be done."

Morrell is heartened that a treatment may be out there but, from where she sits in small-town Brockton, Massachusetts, it seems elusive.  She says few physicians in her area understand her condition, let alone how to treat it using cognitive behavioral therapy.

"I had one doctor say to me I should take Klonopin (an anti-seizure/anti-anxiety medication) for my tinnitus," said Morrell.  "He said to take one the first day, two the second, and to keep stepping it up to 12 a day if I needed to. Can you believe that?"

What nags Morrell almost as much as her condition, is the fear associated with it - that it will get worse. 

Mostly, she wants something simple that she used to take for granted:  "My issue with it is not hearing silence," she said.  "I will never hear silence again."

What Morrell craves is a reset button that will make the noise disappear. 

Curing tinnitus may never be that simple.

soundoff (281 Responses)
  1. Nicholas Coom

    I believe the type of tinnitus i have is from radiation and cancer that i had back in 2005 thus maybe loud noise from construction i have done at work in the past and or concerts of loud music .

    February 25, 2014 at 18:33 | Report abuse | Reply
  2. doug kazakoff

    My tinnitus started right after my hearing tests.
    Is there any correlation between the 2?

    Most people over 50 get hearing tests.
    Has any study been done to see if there is any connection?

    March 2, 2014 at 09:44 | Report abuse | Reply
  3. Michael lemmer

    mine started in 07 delt with it for a while now annoying at times.. and sometimes i forget about it.....only time i really think about the buzzin sound is before bed ahahahh image that the worst time awwww

    March 3, 2014 at 22:40 | Report abuse | Reply
  4. Michael lemmer

    it is so like the hearing test sounds i got when i was younger sounds just like that sound

    March 3, 2014 at 22:43 | Report abuse | Reply
  5. R. Pittman

    I wrecked my ear with loud ear buds.

    Now I blog about ways to control the hissing buzzing torture, in case it helps others. (See arresttinnitus@blogspot.com.) Vinepocetine, a simple herb, works best.

    March 4, 2014 at 17:43 | Report abuse | Reply
    • mel staton

      cannot get to the blog site you listed

      July 11, 2014 at 18:05 | Report abuse |
  6. Cynthia

    I live in the same area as Morrell, and have to say our physicians around here are a joke. They'll point to Anxiety and depression medicine as the way to relieve anything they don't understand. My tinnitus comes from years and years of allergies combined with lyme disease, but since they don't understand either they prefer to treat the patient as though they have a mental imbalance.

    Stemming off of this, referring back to this article, I don't think retraining the mind to cope with the sound is the solution for everyone. Curing what causes it is.

    March 24, 2014 at 15:47 | Report abuse | Reply
    • jilal

      I have tinnitus and My Life Have Changed I am scare .

      May 24, 2014 at 15:46 | Report abuse |
  7. lifetimehearing

    always have background noise; tv, washer/dryer, fan, radio…something. Fans work great at night. Ive had my tinnitus practically since birth.
    ringing in the ears

    April 1, 2014 at 01:12 | Report abuse | Reply
  8. livingwithahizz

    had it now for 4 months, after a short work induced depression from stress and family I found myself unable to sleep.
    in the next month, I slept only a few hours every night. the depression subsided but then after a congestion cold and a trip to the mountains all of a sudden I hear hissing in my ears. I hope it goes away some day.i like the sounds of silence.

    April 7, 2014 at 20:23 | Report abuse | Reply
  9. Linda

    I hear the crickets but it seems to make me dizzy at times. Is that normal?

    April 25, 2014 at 15:39 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Bren

      I hear the crickets too. And the cicadas Also hissing ,buzzing, chirping and high pitched sounds. Sometines seperate, but mostly combined. I get dizzy a lot too and almost fall. Isn't it so frustrating? I sometimes feel like a zombie because the noises seem to hypnotize me and I walk around in a stuporlike state.

      January 6, 2016 at 14:20 | Report abuse |
  10. Tracie

    I got if from being over prescribed prednisone and symbicort for my "asthma", which I never really had. It was just allergies. I told the doctor I couldn't breath after my first steroid use and he said it was in my head and prescribed me tranquilizers. After 4 years of steroid use I now have nerve damage and a constant hissing in my head. Thanks doc!

    July 17, 2014 at 10:05 | Report abuse | Reply
  11. Eliseo Rabinovich

    get it right here


    September 25, 2014 at 21:26 | Report abuse | Reply
  12. Cynthia

    I'm a 48 year old female, with medium to severe hearing loss in my left ear. I also have tennitis, ringing noise, tea kettle blowing, shhhhhh noise.
    I've learned to live with it, and most of all sleep at night.

    Recently, I've had this awful fax machine like noise in my head. This noise is unbearable! It doesnt stop, and is so upsetting. I feel like I'm going to go out of my mind. My sleep is poor, and I'm worried about my future living with this.

    I have suffered from depression, 3 bad episodes, and am coming out of the last one, returning to my job as a flight attendant next week. I'm so worried about how I will deal with my sleep, exhaustion, and not to mention the effect of the airplane noise....along with the hearing aid I have to wear when at work. I don't wear it when I'm not working.

    I hope there is help out there!!

    January 1, 2015 at 18:06 | Report abuse | Reply
    • cinid

      Good luck on going back to work ,I'm also a F/a.The noises I hear are so loud I can't sleep.I've been off on medicals for 2 yrs.I don't know if I 'll ever gey bak

      November 25, 2015 at 01:17 | Report abuse |
  13. Denis

    Though the health problem is not fatal, it will give you a really bad day and frustrate you b/c it will not let you sleep in peace. I was browsing the net and found this video helpful: http://fwrd.pw/TNTis

    February 9, 2015 at 15:57 | Report abuse | Reply
  14. john

    They'll share news and views on health and medical trends – info that will help you take better care of yourself and the people you love. http://tinnitushelper.org/

    March 21, 2015 at 14:47 | Report abuse | Reply
  15. angel

    Hi! Me too, im hearing all these sounds and its really bothering me and loosing my temper on everything, it really makes me irritated easily and im bothered, this is years of tinitus, but recently ive been experiencing worst tinitus, and it includes severe headache and i cant sleep well, the doctor issue me iterax anti allergy meds, but still it doesnt help much and i stopped taking it, im really bothered everyday and my ear i can feel its getting big , sometimes i can feel my head is burning and i cant see a straight line anymore, i really need advice on what to do, sometumes when jts really loud, i feel nauseus and wanna vomit, and getting dizzy, please help me

    May 26, 2015 at 01:06 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Arlene Mary

      Oh! Sorry. I found this helpful, i even leave a review there.

      June 27, 2015 at 17:59 | Report abuse |
  16. Yvonne

    I got tinnitus after a period of extreme stress. I used to hear drumming in my left ear and a high pitch sound in my right ear. When I stopped eating grains/gluten, the drumming went away. When I stopped eating ice cream (made from non organic milk) the tinnitus in the right ear also went away. We live in a very polluted environment but normally the body can detox itself. The detox and self healing capacity may get disturbed during extreme stress. I am convinced that the chemicals used in today's agriculture make us sick. WHO declared the herbicide Roundup/glyphosate carcinogenic. It also causes other diseases. It is used not only on GMO crops but also on other crops. When I stopped eating grains, I cut out glyphosate from my diet. Cows are fed GMO grains, so when I ate ice cream made from milk, I fed my body glyphosate. I stopped eating the store bought ice cream, and I now buy organic milk, cream, butter, eggs, also org meat and chicken, org produce, and make my own ice cream and kefir (yogurt type of thing). But sometimes I crave my favorite store bought ice cream and after I eat it, the tinnitus in the right ear is back. When I stop eating the store bought ice cream, the tinnitus goes away.

    July 8, 2015 at 10:54 | Report abuse | Reply
  17. jorge

    My dad suffers from constant cricket sounds as he puts it. Is there medication I can get for him? Please help

    October 12, 2015 at 13:28 | Report abuse | Reply
  18. rajesh

    mine started when i had a 30 days cough, and consulted a SOB ENT and he overdosed me with a dynatussin plus loratidine capsule

    October 24, 2015 at 21:49 | Report abuse | Reply
  19. Surya

    Tinnitus since long time ago in my ri8 ear'
    cnt bear

    October 29, 2015 at 14:05 | Report abuse | Reply
  20. Carol

    Started having a buzzing noise in my ears 3 days ago with no let up. Should I consider seeing my doctor or try and wait it out? It is very annoying.

    January 20, 2016 at 14:11 | Report abuse | Reply
  21. Jim

    ringing and buzzing started a year ago or so, but sporatic.. the last few months been getting more often.
    I sometimes have days where no noise at all..
    I have t down to this: 1. if I get too much sleep... ringing all day. 2. .if I take a nap.. ringing will start. 3. Long drives *over 15minutes) and buzzing will start.
    Seems like only daily fix (or to have a good day) is get around 5-7 hours of sleep.. don't take a nap... don't go in the car over 15 minutes, but its a daily learning... if you have sporatic ringing like me, make sure you log things, you may start seeing patterns like I did.

    January 25, 2016 at 08:58 | Report abuse | Reply
  22. Solution to Buzzing in your ears

    I had been suffering from severe Buzzing in my ears. Then the congestion in my head , around my fore head began. I would not go with steam nor with inhalation of salt water through the nose. Then a quack told me that your neck bone must be swollen due to possibly Uric Acid and hence inflamed. This inflammation will affect your teeth, your ears and cause congestion in your forehead. Further he suggested that I may be suffering from nerve endings going numb – finger tips, calf muscles, going into a spasm etc. That was true in my case. So I went and got an X-Ray done and sure enough – my bone behind my neck was swollen and it was burning. So the Alleopathy doctor gave me anti-biotics, Combiflam(Anti Bone Inflammation), Antacid, Lupi-Enzyme. The Combiflam worked magic. My nerve feelings are returning gradually. The congestion is nearly gone .. And I can hardly hear the buzz now. So – if you have a buzz. Get your back bone behind your neck – exrayed!

    February 15, 2016 at 10:00 | Report abuse | Reply
  23. nicholasnowak

    I have tinnitus since 2003 after severe head trauma I had with my bike. I tried all kinds of things, from vitamins to zinc to dubious pills sold online. The only thing that has helped me is low laser therapy. If you are like me I suggest you to give it a try. There are special clinics and treatments are often covered by insurance. Unfortunately, there was no such clinic in my town so I had to buy the device myself. It was quite expensive😦 This is the one I am using, http://goo.gl/PlbYQR

    Feel free to drop me a pm if you have any questions.

    February 27, 2016 at 10:16 | Report abuse | Reply
  24. Paula

    I have buzzing in my ears on and off since 2011, it started off when i got a bad cold, the eusteacian tube that goes from your nose to the ears became inflamed. The hospital said i had Tinnitus and nothing i could do just have to live with it. So my GP gave me a letter to see a ENT specialist, I paid the specialist €200 and he told me what the problem was in a space of 10 mins. It is called Glue ear another word for a build up of fluid, i was brought into hospital 6 weeks later for a few hours, i had my ears drained and grommets inserted, when i woke up after the procedure i was so happy i could hear. This has now happened to me 3 times, as i write this to you all, the buzzing is back full wack, im waiting to go back into hospital to get the procedure done again. Go onto youtube and see how the procedure is done its painless and worth it, to hear again with no noises what so ever, unfortunately the grommets do fall out but they can be inserted by a hospital doctor only.:)

    March 11, 2016 at 06:46 | Report abuse | Reply
  25. faa drone registration

    Your humoristic style is witty, keep it up!
    faa drone registration http://droneultra.com/ei-hi-huge-2-4ghz-6-5-channel-6-axis-gyro-led-light-rc-quadcopter-ufo-with-camera-s911c/attachment/1289/

    March 13, 2016 at 10:02 | Report abuse | Reply
  26. Natalie

    I was just looking at your Finally, a treatment for that buzzing in your ears – The Chart – CNN.com Blogs website and see that your site has the potential to become very popular. I just want to tell you, In case you don't already know... There is a website service which already has more than 16 million users, and the majority of the users are interested in topics like yours. By getting your site on this service you have a chance to get your site more visitors than you can imagine. It is free to sign up and you can find out more about it here: http://i7n.co/249si – Now, let me ask you... Do you need your site to be successful to maintain your business? Do you need targeted visitors who are interested in the services and products you offer? Are looking for exposure, to increase sales, and to quickly develop awareness for your site? If your answer is YES, you can achieve these things only if you get your site on the service I am describing. This traffic service advertises you to thousands, while also giving you a chance to test the network before paying anything. All the popular sites are using this network to boost their readership and ad revenue! Why aren’t you? And what is better than traffic? It’s recurring traffic! That's how running a successful website works... Here's to your success! Find out more here: http://sirrico.net/yourls/p5sk

    April 21, 2016 at 21:31 | Report abuse | Reply
1 2 3 4

Post a comment


CNN welcomes a lively and courteous discussion as long as you follow the Rules of Conduct set forth in our Terms of Service. Comments are not pre-screened before they post. You agree that anything you post may be used, along with your name and profile picture, in accordance with our Privacy Policy and the license you have granted pursuant to our Terms of Service.

About this blog

Get a behind-the-scenes look at the latest stories from CNN Chief Medical Correspondent, Dr. Sanjay Gupta, Senior Medical Correspondent Elizabeth Cohen and the CNN Medical Unit producers. They'll share news and views on health and medical trends - info that will help you take better care of yourself and the people you love.