A New Approach for Treating Tinnitus

**UPDATE: This was the post that started it all, and now, nearly two years later, my new book Rewiring Tinnitus: How I Finally Found Relief From the Ringing in My Ears, is finally available on Amazon!**

It’s been a long time since I’ve heard the sound of silence. I’m not sure I even remember what it’s like at this point. I’ve had tinnitus for much longer than Meniere’s disease, though Meniere’s made it much worse. It’s strange to think I might never hear the sound of silence ever again.

To the uninitiated, tinnitus is a strange phenomenon in which a person hears sounds where there are none. Think “phantom sounds,” usually occurring as ringing, buzzing, clicking, or a wide variety of other annoying noises. The constant cacophony in your ears can drive you crazy. It’s not generally as debilitating as vertigo, but it’s usually there even if you get your other symptoms under control.

Unfortunately, there has been not nearly enough research conducted in recent years to explore potential treatments for tinnitus. This is extremely surprising considering recent studies have estimated that tinnitus affects nearly 30 million Americans. The true number might be much higher. Meniere’s disease is just one of the causes of tinnitus.

Currently there are no medications available for treating tinnitus. Most treatment involves either managing your psychological response or attempting to mask the sound with background noise; a white noise machine for example. Cognitive behavioral therapy, a type of counseling, is well known for reducing the stress caused by tinnitus. Personally, I find meditation to be quite helpful as well. Learning to quiet my thoughts has helped me to ignore my tinnitus. That seems to be the common thread among the widely accepted treatment strategies, learning to ignore it.

However, a while back, I had an interesting idea. Knowing that everyone tries to ignore it, I thought, what if I did the opposite? I had a feeling that people are bothered by tinnitus the most when they are actively trying to ignore it, but can’t. So instead of trying to block it out, I wondered, why not face it head on? To consciously and intentionally focus on the sound. I was surprised to find that this is actually quite difficult. As soon as I would try to sit and focus on the noise, my mind would wander, quickly forgetting about the high pitched whine in my ears. I immediately realized something profound. If meditation typically involves concentrating your awareness onto a single point of focus, such as a repeated mantra, why not try focusing on the ringing instead? And by extension, if I learned to focus on the sound by choice, maybe it would bother me less when I chose not to.

Much to my delight, I found that by choosing to focus intensely on the ringing, it was indeed much easier to ignore. It seemed to steadily lose its power to bother me. It seems counterintuitive but it’s helped me a great deal. Stress, especially physiological stress (muscle tension), can make your tinnitus worse. So any practice that combines meditation as well as directly managing tinnitus is a winning combination in my book. My strategy slowly evolved into a meditation technique I refer to as “The Tinnitus Meditation.” It’s easy to learn, but like all meditation, will require practice and effort. Here’s how it works:

The Tinnitus Meditation Technique:

You don’t need to know how to meditate to learn and practice this technique. It will help both beginners and experts alike. It can be done sitting or lying down. First, get comfortable and make sure you will have no distractions. If you have never meditated before I suggest setting a timer for 5-10 minutes. If you are an experienced meditator, you can do this for as long as you’d like, but set a timer. Close your eyes and take a couple of deep breaths into your diaphragm (lower abdomen). Consciously relax your whole body, starting with your feet, working your way up to your head.

Focus your entire attention on the sound of your tinnitus. For the first several minutes, just maintain this focus. If you find your mind drifting, gently bring it back to the sound. Hopefully, you will slowly find yourself deeply relaxed into a meditative state. See if you can find variations in the sound. If you listen carefully, you may find there are multiple tones or noises. Explore this with a mindset of genuine curiosity.

Next, while still focusing on the sound, imagine that there is a large volume knob in front of you that controls the volume of the sound. Imagine yourself playing with the volume knob, turning it up and down. You may be as surprised as I was to find, that the volume of the sound can be affected. Sometimes I imagine a large on/off switch as well and mentally flip it up and down. Now imagine that there is a second knob right next to the volume that controls the tone of the sound. Imagine yourself turning this knob as well. I was amazed to find that I can temporarily lower and raise the frequency of the tones of my tinnitus by doing this. Continue to focus on the sound until your timer goes off.

I noticed while practicing this, that if I catch my mind drifting, for that brief bit of time my tinnitus wasn’t bothering me at all. This gave me hope initially and I’ve now found that after practicing this technique for a while, my tinnitus seems to barely ever bother me. Remember though, like all meditation techniques though, it will take practice. I hope this approach can help you as much as it has helped me!

UPDATE: I have published a part 2 for this post with strategies that help make this technique even more effective. Click here to read my new post “Tinnitus: Powerful Strategies to Reclaim Your Silence”

  1. I enjoyed reading you article. Like you I have suffered with tinitis for years. Part of the cause of my tinitis is from a dental procedure where my jawbone came out of place. I am anxious to try your meditationous exercises. In the beginning it drove me crazy. It would get on my nerves so bad I would cry. Then I started keeping myself busy and keeping some kind of sound going all the time. What makes it hard for me is that I also have hearing loss in both ears. I hope your idea can work for me.

  2. This is a great idea… or at least something new to try… either way I’m looking forward to getting started! I’ve had an incredibly loud, high-pitched, broad-spectrum ringing in my head 24/7 ever since I “woke up” in the hospital after side-swiping an Oldsmobile on my 10-speed bicycle in the summer of 1978… at this point anything new to try is good…

    In my searching for help in coping with this tinnitus since ’78, as well as severe chronic pain and a major depressive disorder for the last couple decades, I discovered Brainwave Entrainment — Google it for more info — which I can best describe as similar to a pacemaker to wrangle your brainwaves… My favorite “flavor” of entrainment is Binaural Beats which requires headphones or earbuds, which can be problematic with the tinnitus, but the benefit is worth working through it…

    The recordings play a different cycle or tone in each ear and that sets your brainwaves to a cycle that is equal to the difference between the two cycles played… My favorite so far, since I can’t sleep well or much at all, is a recording called “4 Hours Sleep In 40 Minutes” which quickly resets my brainwaves to the deep sleep Delta range within minutes and I can get deep restorative rest in much less time than I would otherwise require… plus, if I sleep for more than 2 hours at a time, when I wake up after lying still that long my pain is through the roof and any benefit from the sleep is totally lost.

    I’ve found mp3s for quickly accessing any level of relaxation I want within minutes… deep, deep levels of meditative states without years and years of practice or training… And many can be found for free on Google and YouTube… gotta love it!

    Hope this is helpful… and thanks for your new technique!

    Peace!

    • Hi David, thanks for your response and I hope this technique helps you as much as its helped me! I find it helps the most with falling asleep. But I love the idea of using binaural beats as a way to relax and cope with tinnitus. I’ve written about them in the context of inducing sleep or focus in a couple articles, but never thought about applying them to tinnitus. In fact maybe it would be a good idea to create specific binaural beat tracks to go with this technique. I think I just might give that a shot! Thanks again David.

      • I think you’re the first person I’ve contacted who is familiar with binaural beats… color me impressed. Hopefully I’ll have a chance to try it on Monday once my wife is off at work and my son is off at summer day camp… I am really looking forward to finding out if it will help me… especially after all these years of torture without any hope of relief.

        When you create those binaural beats tracks please let me know… I’m always looking for good tracks to add to my collection. 🙂 Peace, Dave

        • Sounds good Dave, I definitely will let you know. I was doing some research and brainstorming over the weekend to try to figure out what might be the most beneficial way to do it. I found some interesting things. First the 20htz beat frequency is supposedly known to help tinnitus, so I plan to experiment with that. Also I learned about a phenomenon where if you listen to an external tone that matches the frequency of your tinnitus it causes a temporary silencing of your tinnitus. Or at least it seems to in many people, including me. It got me thinking, maybe if the binaural beat was carried on tones right around the same frequency of someones tinnitus, it would help even more. It will take some experimentation for sure, but if I come up with anything interesting I’ll shoot you an email so you can test it out.

          Good luck with this technique though!

  3. Elizabeth Stengel

    A few years ago, American Tinnitus Association published an article in its magazine written by a man who’d had tinnitus for many years before finding a meditation-like solution: every night before sleeping he reviews his day with his brain, in terms of how well the tinnitus has been controlled. Then, before getting out of bed in the a.m., he focuses on communicating with his brain and gives it instructions: “by the time I finish brushing my teeth, tinnitus will have reduced 25%, by the time I’ve finished dressing, another 25% will be gone, when I’m finished breakfast another 25% will have disappeared, and when I leave the house, my head will be quiet.” He sort of talks his brain into being a collaborator with him and he says it’s worked now about 15 years. I’ve tried this method off and on and have not had the complete success he has, but I’ve become more successful at reducing the noise. My tinnitus is not as constant or as loud as yours seems to be, and the noise is more wind-like, so more bearable. But it has contributed hugely to hearing loss so I like to work on having control over it. And meditation is good for my Meniere’s . Thank you, Glenn.

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