Tinnitus (ringing in the ears)

Chronic tinnitus is rightly regarded as a tough problem in medicine and I don't think there is any one treatment that can help it any more than there is one factor that causes it but in my own practice I have often been asked if there is anything that might help and I can faithfully report that I have found that one or more of the approaches as described below have had some good success with many.

Each of the following sections starts with some indication as to how you might know if this was the area you needed to direct your attention towards and then, if so, the kinds of things that may help. Then, at the end under 'tuning in' I describe a further process that may further reward your attention to it, so long as you have a rather open mind!

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Finding a good herbalist

Much of what's written in this article is entirely suitable for a person to work through themselves but, especially if things are quite bad, or you just know that you need further help, then there may be a great deal of benefit to you to go to whatever lengths necessary to find a good herbalist or truly holistic practitioner to guide you on to a safe and strong treatment program. There's a short write-up to suggest how you might go about finding such a person here

Circulation matters

Getting an adequate blood flow through the tiny vessels in the middle and inner ear is absolutely crucial for everything to work properly and the various ways in which that circulation can be impaired is clearly a major cause of tinnitus. How you might know that a lack of sufficient blood flow into your ear was behind your tinnitus is not simple or clear cut but some clues could be
~ a) your tinnitus is worse when you get cold
~ b) the tinnitus has slowly worsened with age rather than from a specific hearing damage
~ c) you have other signs of poor circulation such as cold hands and feet or sore joints in the cold


If poor circulation is a core issue behind the tinnitus then the first step is to let Nature help and in this regard one of the most reliable of all tonics to improve heart function and blood flow everywhere in the body is the great herb Hawthorn (written about in more detail here)

The plus to Hawthorn is its safety and reliability -- the minus is that it is a rather slow acting medicine so if this is the track you need to work on I suggest you speed the process by also getting and using capsules of Cayenne


As I describe in the article on Cayenne here the way to treat yourself with this herb is to build it up to a dose that your body can feel. Different Cayenne products will have varying strengths but for the one I use I get people taking anything from 2 all the way up to 8 capsules a day if that is what it takes! How do you know when you are having enough? You should literally feel more heat being generated in your body. More heat equals more blood flow. It won't increase blood flow through your heart like the Hawthorn will but it may still be enough to improve the tinnitus and at least help you to know you are on the right track.


Ginkgo biloba

One further treatment option to improve blood flow to the ear is the herb Ginkgo biloba (more on it here) Like Hawthorn, Ginkgo needs some time to ascertain if it is going to help the problem and I think a month is a reasonable length of time to give it a proper trial.

In practice, if I think that a loss of circulation may be the main driver to the tinnitus I will use all three of these herbs at the same time! If the patient improves then we have the happy problem of now needing to drop the dose or the number of herbs to see if they get worse again and in so doing work out if one or more of the herbs was the one they were responding to. I call this a happy problem because it certainly beats not getting a good result and then laboriously trying one thing after another!

Crataegus monogyna (Hawthorn)


Neck Problems

Many people with tinnitus have at the root of their problem a chronic dislocation (also called a subluxation) of their neck vertebra. Even if it is not the root cause the tinnitus may be being made much worse by tight or twisted muscles in the neck that restrict blood and nerve flow to and from the ear. I think you would surely know if this was a key factor in your tinnitus because
a) you would have some awareness of a stiff or sore neck and
b) when your neck was worse the ringing in your ears would be worse and when your neck felt better the ringing would be less.

Back and neck problems are a big area but not something that you should think is out of the purview of herbal medicine to help. At the very least try the Chamomile compress as I describe in detail in my article on back problems here and then also perhaps look into finding a good 'hands-on' practitioner and have at least 2 or 3 good sessions with them to see how it may help your tinnitus.

Finding a good practitioner

A good physical therapist could come from any field -- chiropractic, osteopathy, massage etc. but unless you already know one with an excellent reputation you may have to ask around and look around to find the best person for you. I think that most of the principles written about above in the link on 'how to find a good herbalist' can be just as helpful when applied to other fields of medicine - that link again is here.


Chronic sinus infections

Swelling and poor drainage of wastes caused by chronic low-grade infections in the sinuses can impair the essential blood flow that feeds the delicate auditory nerves. Chronic infections in the sinuses are more common than people realise and you may be able to know that this is the key problem for you because
a) you have especially tender tissues either above or below your eyes
b) you can feel that your ability to breathe freely through your nose is significantly impaired

Herbal treatment for Sinusitis

Most chronic sinus infections are caused by fungi so just taking antibiotics will do you more harm than good in the long run. The general recommendations on building up your immunity in this article here will give you practical tools to get on top of the infection yourself and in the meanwhile the regular, i.e. daily, practice of steam inhalations described here should get things moving in the right direction nice and quickly.

Ruling out food allergy or intolerance

I have had a number of patients report that their tinnitus cleared up when they detected and removed a long standing food intolerance and I think that this is because their, then much healthier, immune system was finally able to resolve a chronic sinus or middle-ear infection. If you have other symptoms that suggest you may have an issue with food reactions such as getting bad bloating in the gut after certain foods or any history of eczema or asthma then this may well be the subject that needs further attention and the detailed article here on food allergy and intolerance will steer you in the right direction.


Nervous system

Everyone with bad tinnitus gets their nervous system affected by it. In fact any kind of problem in the head has the ability to deeply disrupt people's inner peace.

If you yourself feel that your nervous tension is a part of the problem with your tinnitus then please do not take it on yourself to try to judge whether the tinnitus made you tense or being tense made you get tinnitus (or made it worse) but rather do something positive to actually help. There are tremendously helpful medicines in the natural world that people have used since our very beginnings to ease our troubles along the long way of life -- use them.

Skullcap & Withania

I especially rate the ability of the herb Skullcap (read more about it here) to help with tension in the head and I am sure it has been of much help to many of my patients with tinnitus. The other herb that I want to mention here that I have found to be of much help is the great nervine tonic Withania root (read more here).

Further to this the article I have written on tension and anxiety has a number of practical steps that I've seen consistently work for people with all kinds of problems that are shredding their nerves; you can find it here.

Scutellaria lateriflora (Skullcap)

Tuning in

This last suggestion is one that I recommend anyone with tinnitus to look into but it is hard to explain in a couple of sentences and much harder again to convey without being able to talk it through in person and be able to guide the patient through the exercise so they can feel how it can work for them right away....

Everyone I have met with bad tinnitus reports that it is much worse when they are just resting or relaxing and that when they are busy and engaged with other activities the tinnitus fades into the background. What is happening there? All the pre-conditions, whatever they might be, that have gone into creating the tinnitus in the first place have not changed, but our level of attention to it naturally comes and goes and our brains are obviously registering the sound more at one time compared to another. Understanding this, and understanding how the brain works, we can apply a strategy that alters our perception of the tinnitus but instead of looking for distraction from it we can turn out attention into it!

You should know that I understand at first this will all seem terribly counter-intuitive to someone suffering from bad tinnitus. 'Easy for him to say' you will be forgiven for thinking -- 'he doesn't know what it's like'.

Well actually I do, and this is why I am offering this suggestion, because the 'tuning in' is the thing that I found that cured my own tinnitus and whenever it comes back, which it does from time to time, I have found that the tuning in always reliably works -- quickly too as I have learned to trust it and seem to be able to much more quickly 'process' the signal.

I realise that I am not going to be the same as everyone else and a sample of one is never good evidence for what can help others but, well, I've been doing this for quite a while now and I've had a good number of people in my clinic find the same process work for them too so I know this can help others too...

The ‘tuning in’ process

Firstly, you need to get comfortable and relax your body and your breathing. This part is not meant to be hard but for many people it is actually very hard to relax -- especially if they have good reason to be tense! It may help you to get started in this regard to listen to one or more the relaxation commentaries, or even the relaxing music put up here.

After beginning to relax the next step is to 'tune into' the tinnitus. Simply focus your attention on that exact same sound (or sounds) that have been torturing you for however long it's been.

Of course you won’t like it at first and you will probably want to stop soon after you start. Don’t stop, it will get easier with time but you have to get through that first hurdle of the stress-response, the 'fight or flight' reaction that sends off alarm bells in your brain and actually makes the tinnitus louder or more discomforting when you first give it your attention.

So, at first yes it will feel like you are making the tinnitus worse and you just have to expect to feel that way and to accept it too (for the moment at least). Your brain is giving more of its attention to the sound so at first it is going to sound louder, or more piercing, or more unpleasant...

Try not to panic but if you do get caught up in thoughts about how much you don’t like it, how much you want to get rid of it etc. just let those thoughts come and go too. They will likely be very familiar thoughts because your brain has been hard-wired to have an alarm response to the tinnitus. This is the key point to understand, you are going to de-activate the alarm but in order to do that you have to get close to it!

Let the thoughts and feelings about the tinnitus (and anything else for that matter) just come and go. Just keep listening, passively, attentively. You aren't trying to do anything -- just listen, and for now, accept.

Your mind will probably ask you -- 'what are you doing?' Answer back 'nothing, I'm just relaxing and tuning into my tinnitus -- I'm riding the waves of it!'

Please trust me that this truly does get easier with practice but for the beginning you have to do it on no small measure of faith. At some point it will quite suddenly start to feel better. Now watch carefully -- it may well recede away and stay away but, especially if you suddenly think 'it worked!' it may just as well suddenly come back too!

If and more likely when this happens -- again, just ride the wave, stay with the process for as long as you are giving to it (I would rather not specify a time as this defeats the purpose of passive listening, better to think of it as a process that you give as long as it takes...

Keep 'watching and listening' to the sounds and you will see how the ringing eventually softens and fades as your brain releases the strong negative reaction to the sensation.

How does it work?

It's hard to explain the 'how' of this process. The analogy to the alarm bell ringing is that you have to go close to in order to see that there is no real danger and so that it can, having fulfilled its purpose, now turn off, kind of explains it, somewhat...

There is a tremendous amount of research going into brain function in recent years that show we can literally 're-wire' our brains to change our perception to all kinds of things, including distressing thoughts, feelings, smells, images... and sounds.

You can be certain that each time you do this exercise and stay with the process until the tinnitus recedes and you relax with it instead of tensing against it you are will effectively be re-wiring your brain -- you also have to know that the longer you have had tinnitus and the more stress you have built up around it the longer that re-wiring is going to need to work -- but everything gets better with practice and you should start feeling tangible gains from it soon after you start.

Lastly and especially for those of you for whom some permanent physical damage has been done to the delicate apparatus of your ear I suggest that this process of relaxing, 'tuning-in' and re-training your brain to stop having its stress-responses may be your best chance of getting back your inner peace and I very much wish you every success with it. Give it a really good go, more than once!

Constitutional Health Note

Finally, you might benefit from learning about your constitution to know what kind of foods, herbs, exercises etc. will work especially well for your health in general as well as helping you to deal with and treat your tinnitus. Constitutional health is an old and fascinating way of understanding our differences and, to demonstrate how it works in this area I have to say that, aside from tinnitus directly caused by sound-trauma to the ear, the great majority of my own patients who have been badly affected by this come from the cooler constitutions, the Bears and the EBs! In any case there is a brief introduction to this great subject here and a more detailed section on working out which constitution you are here.

Please understand that I cannot personally advise you without seeing you in my clinic.
This living 'book' is my labour of love so, wherever you are, I wish you peace & good health!






© 2011 R.J.Whelan Ltd