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Tinnitus myths

1. Tinnitus is a disease

Tinnitus can be very distressing, but it is misleading to think of it as a disease. Tinnitus is the term used for any noise you hear within your ears or head that is not generated by an outside source. Tinnitus can be caused by lots of different things, so it’s more helpful to think of it as a condition or a symptom.

2. Tinnitus makes you deaf

Tinnitus does not make you deaf, although it may start at the same time as a hearing loss. Often as your ability to hear outside sounds decreases because of a hearing loss, your brain focuses more on your internal noises and you may then start to become aware of tinnitus.

Therefore for those with a hearing loss, to help the brain hear the more meaningful outside sounds better again and reduce the awareness of your internal sounds, hearing aids are often recommended.

In some people tinnitus can be an indication of something more serious. So it’s important to visit the doctor to rule out any underlying health problem.

3. Caffeine makes tinnitus worse

People looking for help with their tinnitus are often told to cut caffeine out of their diet. But this is unlikely to help. A study funded by Deafness Research UK showed that caffeine has no effect on tinnitus, and that suddenly cutting out caffeine might actually make tinnitus worse.

However, some people with tinnitus also have sleep difficulties. As caffeine can affect sleep, for those with sleep difficulties, it is recommended that sources of caffeine are avoided for at least 3 hours before going to bed.

4. Ginkgo biloba will cure tinnitus

There is no evidence that ginkgo biloba, a plant extract, cures tinnitus. It may help, if you suffer from tinnitus as a side effect from a restriction of the blood flow to the head (cerebral vascular insufficiency), but even here the evidence is not clear. 

5. Cutting the auditory nerve will cure tinnitus

It might seem that, because tinnitus is experienced as a sound, cutting the nerve that carries sound signals from the ear to the brain might make it stop. But this is not the case. This is because the brain is involved in the perception of tinnitus and not just the ear. Even if the auditory nerve is surgically cut, tinnitus continues. Reduction of tinnitus occurs as the brain’s perception of tinnitus changes, either naturally over time or with the help of different strategies or interventions.

6. Musical hallucination is a sign of psychiatric problem

Musical tinnitus is tinnitus presenting itself in a musical form. Some sufferers worry that they may have a serious psychiatric disorder such as schizophrenia. It is very rare for people with schizophrenia to experience musical hallucinations and there is thought to be no connection between the two conditions.

7. Nothing can be done for people with tinnitus

Although tinnitus has no simple ‘cure’, there are many ways to ease it and reduce its impact. For most people, tinnitus settles by itself over time. Where a person is troubled by tinnitus, there is range of strategies that can help.  As different strategies work for different people, understanding your tinnitus and when, if not why, it troubles you is the first step to managing it effectively.