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Need to Know: What Can I Do About Tinnitus?

Need to Know: What Can I Do About Tinnitus?

ms in moderation
Editor’s note: “Need to Know” is a series inspired by common forum questions and reader comments. Have a comment or question about MS? Please visit our forum. This week’s question is inspired by the forum topic “Tinnitus and MS: An Annoying Combination” from Jan. 4, 2017.

What is tinnitus?

Tinnitus is the medical terminology for something we all likely have experienced at one time or another — a ringing in the ears.

Some sufferers have described it as a faint, high-pitched, buzzing, or whining background noise; others have likened it to a cacophony of church bells blocking out all other sounds. In between these two extremes are whooshing, faraway music, hissing, clicking, murmurs, and crinkling.

Tinnitus can happen while we are awake or as we sleep. For some, a continuous case of tinnitus can lead to problems with anxiety and sleep loss.

Why do people with MS experience ringing ears?

Tinnitus isn’t common in people with MS. Fewer than 5 percent of people with MS experience hearing problems that include ringing ears.

Ringing ears may be symptomatic of other problems, such as excessive ear wax, polyps, or other growths in the ear canal. Sometimes, as Harvard Women’s Health Watch points out, common medications such as aspirin and nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs can trigger temporary ringing in the ears. A condition called Menière’s disease, which affects the inner ear, also causes tinnitus.

If you experience ringing in your ears, keep in mind that MS could be one of many potential causes. However, if MS is the root cause, it can be explained by various neurological factors, including:

  • Sensorineural hearing loss caused by lesions (scar tissue) that interfere with the ears’ neural networks due to demyelination.
  • Disease activity of the white matter — specifically, the ventricles of the brain.

For MS-related tinnitus, the problem may be persistent, occasional, or occur as a response to sensory overload.

Some people with MS who have ringing ears may develop hyperacusis or oversensitivity to noise.

What can you do about ringing ears?

Unfortunately, tinnitus doesn’t have a specific treatment or cure. The approach for dealing with it includes identifying the root cause, then addressing that problem.

Fortunately, tinnitus in most cases will resolve on its own. Treatments for non-MS problems related to the ears include a change in prescription or trigger avoidance. For example, swimmers may experience tinnitus due to the noisy environment of an indoor pool which subsides when they spend time away from it.

If you can’t find a root cause for your tinnitus, and your ringing ears are keeping you up at night or driving you crazy during the day, your neurologist may wish to carry out an MRI to rule out an exacerbation.

Meanwhile, for general relief from tinnitus at bedtime or overnight, you can try some of these tips:

  • Practice relaxation. The ringing ears may not be keeping you up as much as the anxiety that the sound causes you. Counted breathing exercises, progressive muscle relaxation, easy yoga, or a warm (not hot) shower might help.
  • Control volume. Noise from gadgets and loud social events can trigger tinnitus. Turn down your electronics at night to prepare your brain for rest and avoid late-nights outings. You may wish to wear earplugs at sports events, concerts, and parties. Paradoxically, some people find that listening to music through headphones at bedtime — at a low volume — can create a pleasant background noise that they can focus on while falling asleep.
  • Cloak the noise. White noise machines, smartphone sound apps, sound-emitting pillows, even wireless sleep headphones can mask sounds while encouraging sleep-inducing relaxation.

Have ringing ears? Mention it to your neurologist or MS specialist if the noise is stressing you out or keeping you up at night. They may refer you to an ear, nose, and throat specialist to rule out other common causes before assigning the blame to MS.

Are you hearing those church bells or dog whistles again? Do you have tips for keeping these unwelcome noises at bay? Post your replies in the comments below or at the original forum entry.


Note: Multiple Sclerosis News Today is strictly a news and information website about the disease. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website. The opinions expressed in this column are not those of Multiple Sclerosis News Today or its parent company, BioNews Services, and are intended to spark discussion about issues pertaining to multiple sclerosis.

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  1. Linda says:

    This is not very helpful. My tinnitus and hyperacusis are constants. When tinnitus began, it would be sporadic/infrequent and low in volume. Now, it is 24/7 though varies in intensity. I have no other choice than to live with it, but my PCP, neuro, and audiologists have all just shrugged or implied that I have damaged my hearing when I mention it. For the record, I have never gone to loud concerts, played loud music, operated heavy machinery, or exposed my ears to high decibels of sound. So it is less than helpful for this MS news feed to add another shrug/insult, saying fewer than 5% of MS sufferers experience tinnitus. It is my belief that it is under-reported.

    • Tamara Sellman says:

      Hi Linda

      Sorry the post isn’t more helpful, if it helps at all, my tinnitus is also a constant and I’ve been told there’s nothing for it, as well. I missed out on a full day of a conference last week because I couldn’t *hear.* I have been checked for hearing loss and I don’t have any that isn’t normal for my age.

      The post isn’t meant to be another shrug or insult. Sometimes that is just the crappy reality. Doctors and scientists don’t know everything and when it comes to singular symptoms like tinnitus, they are still scraping the surface in research. If tinnitus were life threatening, we’d naturally have more realistic statistics. The squeaky wheel gets the grease. I believe the same, that it *is* underreported. I also believe everyone is to blame for that: doctors don’t ask, and patients don’t share. Keep in mind, the statistics of *just having MS* have been, until very recently, grossly underreported, so yes, we have a long way to go. Hang in there.

      For what it’s worth, here at MS News we are all just reporting on what’s out there, and if there isn’t a solution, it’s not for want of trying to find one. We’re just the messengers delivering information. If we can’t solve a particular concern with a blog post, that’s more a reflection of the medical community’s failures than ours, I think. Remember, we are living with MS, too.

      Good luck to you, maybe your comment will inspire others with tinnitus to speak out to their healthcare providers and MS agencies to legitimize the discussion, maybe more practitioners will take a clue and ask their patients.

      • Anita says:

        I used to have tinnitus sporadically. About two weeks ago, it came on strong and has not left. It is worse in my left ear. It is a low loud hum with a higher pitch sound as well. My left side has most of my MS problems, i.e., foot drop, hyperextended knee. It is now affecting my hearing. I constantly say “what” when my spouse is speaking to me. I sometimes have to turn off the TV because it’s too much sound. Also, I am having a difficult time trying to decipher where sound is coming from. Very frustrating. Saw my PCP yesterday and shared with her. Getting my MRIs in two weeks for my upcoming MS appt.

        You mentioned getting an MRI to rule out an exacerbation. What do you mean by that?

        • Tamara Sellman says:

          I mean that an MRI (or, your upcoming MRI) will take a look at your brain and spine to see if you have any new disease activity. This is important because if you are having a relapse or exacerbation, you and your doctor can work together to alleviate it, lowering your risk for nerve damage that is typically irreversible. Increases in certain kinds of symptoms (like tinnitus) don’t necessarily point to new disease activity, but they might, so it’s good to know so you can make some informed decisions moving forward. Good luck!

  2. Dan MADDEN says:

    The third paragraph below the title “What can you do about ringing ears?” starts with the phrase: “If you can’t find a root cause for your MS”.
    This phrase troubles me. Can anyone find the “root cause for MS”? Please explain. Thank you

  3. Lynn McNeill Hendrix says:

    The ringing is louder if my body is being challenged…. from a cold to a flare up. On days I feel well, it is lower. There is a definite correlation.

  4. Karen says:

    Yes, Tinnitus and hyperacusis are constants for me too. Nothing to be done about it, but accept it, I’ve heard from a few specialists.
    Oh, well…

  5. Alan Garvin says:

    Mine is constant 24/7 ringing., Alway though I’d damaged my hearing somehow but now I think I’ll investigate the MS possible cause. Not that it sound like there is anything that can be done about it!…..

    Recently I have wondered if a hearing aid that adds the negative of the ringing to counteract it is possible….. Like the noise canceling headphones you can get these days?

  6. Olivia says:

    It’s really hard writing about an ailment that has no cure, it feels like a never ending cycle. But articles like this show that we’re not alone so thank you so much for being a part of the conversation. I completely agree that this is something that needs to be talked about more so people know there’s an entire community out there for them. I know when my tinnitus first began I thought it was just me going crazy but turns out that not only does it have a name but people have it too! I’ve been told cutting down on caffeine can help manage symptoms but have yet to see that result. My ringing is worse at night so I use the Lipo-Flavonoid Sonorest as my white noise lullaby. We got this guys!

    • Tamara Sellman says:

      Thanks for reading, Olivia! I was just at the store and my ears were ringing so loud I could no longer ignore them! It’s weird, sometimes I feel like I am used to it, and then it picks up volume and becomes so crazy-noticeable. No rhyme or reason for it. Yes, once you discover you are a member of a secret club, there is some odd comfort in that! And yes, sharing what works for us in the face of no options for stopping it completely is about the best we can do, but let me say this: people are really good at helping others when they have that common ground. Good luck to you!

  7. rajuram says:

    Hello ,

    Nice blog. My uncle had this same ear ringing problem. lot of medicine will take, But No Use. He searched internet getting Natural remedy. after try this now he is happy. with in a week this problem solved. here is the natural solution remedy.

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