It's commonly referred to as "ringing in the ears," but tinnitus can actually be quite different from person to person. The sounds of tinnitus can be soft or loud, steady or irregular, and heard in both ears or just one. And instead of ringing, some people describe it as buzzing, clicking, whistling, hissing, roaring or swooshing.
"Some people compare it to a mosquito sound," says Nancy McKenna, AuD, PhD, associate professor in the department of allied health, University of North Carolina School of Medicine in Chapel Hill.
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Tinnitus can last a few minutes (for example, after you hear a loud noise) or can go on for years, resulting in lack of sleep, difficulty concentrating and depression. It's generally considered chronic when it continues for more than six months, McKenna says.
Tinnitus also has a wide variety of causes and treatments, which is where vitamins and supplements can play a role.
Here, we'll look at the common causes of tinnitus and which supplements and vitamins are connected to the condition.
What Causes Ringing in the Ears or Tinnitus?
There are many possible causes of tinnitus, with the most common being hearing loss due to excessive noise exposure or age. Others include the following, according to the Cleveland Clinic and American Tinnitus Association (ATA):
- Excessive earwax
- Foreign objects in your ear
- Nasal congestion
- Temporomandibular joint (TMJ) disorder
- Ear and sinus infections
- Loud noise
- Meniere's disease, which disturbs balance
- Head or neck injuries
- Circulation problems
- Blood vessel disorders
- Chronic conditions like diabetes, migraine and anemia
Medications That Can Cause Tinnitus
Many drugs can also cause tinnitus, according to Harvard Health Publishing. There are called ototoxic drugs and they include:
- Aspirin and other nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) such as ibuprofen (Motrin) and naproxen (Aleve)
- Some antibiotics, such as ciprofloxacin (Cipro), erythromycin (Ery-Tab) and tetracycline (Sumycin)
- Tricyclic antidepressants, including amitriptyline (Elavil)
- Chloroquine, quinine and other antimalarial drugs
- Antiseizure medications such as carbamazepine (Tegretol) and valproic acid (Depakote)
- Cisplatin (Platinol) and some other cancer drugs
- Certain intravenous diuretics such as bumetanide (Bumex) and furosemide (Lasix)
Can Any Vitamin Supplements Cause Tinnitus?
Researchers are investigating whether vitamin deficiencies or supplements can cause tinnitus. Here's what they know so far:
A September 2012 study in the Ghana Medical Journal looked at blood levels of vitamin C, vitamin B12 and melatonin in 139 older adults. Blood levels of vitamin C in people with tinnitus turned out to be the same as in those without tinnitus, suggesting that deficiencies don't play a role.
That same study, however, did find lower levels of both vitamin B12 and melatonin, a hormone involved in the sleep/wake cycle, in people with tinnitus versus those without.
But a more recent and larger study of 10,000 people — published April 2022 in the American Journal of Otolaryngology — did not find any link between vitamin B12 levels and tinnitus. The same study also found no relationship with zinc.
An August 2021 study in PLOS One of 300 people with and without tinnitus found a vitamin D deficiency among people with tinnitus, but it did not explore whether or not supplements would help, so we need additional research.
The 2022 research in the American Journal of Otolaryngology mentioned above found an association between low manganese levels in the blood and tinnitus, but it didn't investigate whether supplementation would help, so more research is needed.
Can Specific Vitamins or Supplements Help With Tinnitus?
A 2018 survey by the ATA of about 1,800 people with tinnitus found that 23 percent use dietary supplements, including vitamins and minerals, to treat their symptoms. But, says Dr. McKenna, "There's no real indication that supplementation helps."
In the survey, almost three-quarters of the respondents said the supplement was ineffective and 10 percent said they actually made the symptom worse.
Talk to your doctor before taking any new vitamin or supplement to make sure it's safe based on your specific health conditions, medications and medical history.
At this point, there's no best vitamin or supplement for tinnitus. Here's what the research has shown us so far:
While zinc deficiencies may be related to tinnitus, there's little evidence to suggest supplementing with zinc can improve tinnitus except perhaps in a few people with severe deficiencies.
Groups at higher risk for deficiencies include the following, according to the National Institutes of Health:
- Older adults
- People who abuse alcohol
- Those with digestive disorders or a history of gastrointestinal surgery
- People with sickle cell disease
Talk to your doctor about whether taking zinc is right for you.
In general, zinc supplements are considered safe. But as with most vitamins and supplements, there's no clear answer on how much zinc (if any) you should take for tinnitus. The recommended daily allowance is 8 to 12 milligrams for adults, per the NIH, and the upper limit is 40 milligrams.
Our Favorite Zinc Supplements
Vitamin B12 plays a role in many physiological functions, and while deficiencies are rare in younger people, as many as 20 percent of adults over the age of 60 may have too-low levels, per the NIH.
Such deficiencies may be implicated in tinnitus, but the evidence on whether supplements will help is mixed. One 2013 study in B-ENT found virtually no effect, while a March-April 2016 pilot study in Noise & Health produced only slightly more promising results.
According to the NIH, those most at risk for a vitamin B12 deficiency include:
- Older adults
- People with pernicious anemia
- Those with digestive disorders or a history of gastrointestinal surgery
Food sources of vitamin B12 include fish, meat, eggs and dairy products. The recommended daily allowance is 2.8 micrograms for adults, per the NIH, and there is no established upper intake level.
Our Favorite B12 Supplements
Extract of this plant was the most commonly used supplement in the 2018 ATA survey and is generally the most studied.
Again, evidence is mixed, though, and gingko biloba should not be taken by people with seizure or bleeding disorders. You should also stay away from this supplement if you're trying to conceive, pregnant or nursing, and you should talk to your doctor if you have diabetes, according to Consumer Lab.
Our Favorite Gingko Biloba Supplements
This hormone may help people with tinnitus who have trouble sleeping. Melatonin is widely touted as a sleeping aid, according to Johns Hopkins Medicine.
Researchers have found it safe over short periods of time, but keep in mind that it has not been studied over longer time periods. Doses of 1 to 3 milligrams are considered safe.
Our Favorite Melatonin Supplements
Deficiencies of this mineral might contribute to tinnitus, and some evidence suggests magnesium supplements may help, but the studies have been small and preliminary.
Adults should get between 310 and 420 milligrams a day, according to the NIH. Foods high in magnesium include spinach, squash and pumpkin seeds, lima and black beans, quinoa and flaxseeds.
Magnesium deficiency is uncommon, but some people are at higher risk for it, including:
- Those with gastrointestinal diseases
- People with type 2 diabetes
- Those with alcohol dependence
- Older adults
Our Favorite Magnesium Supplements
- Thorne Magnesium Bisglycinate: $42, Thorne.com
- Nature Made Magnesium: $6.24, Amazon
Vitamins and supplements are not regulated in the same way as drugs and are not approved by the Food and Drug Administration. Products found on store shelves vary widely in cost and dosage and may not contain what the labels say. It’s always best to check with a health care professional before taking any vitamin or supplement. “Taking supplements of unknown origin can cause unintended effects and even ramp up tinnitus,” Dr. McKenna says.
Other Treatments for Tinnitus
Vitamins and supplements are not used routinely to treat tinnitus. Instead, doctors first try to find a cause for the symptom, then address it. Most tinnitus causes, though, do not have treatments, says Linda Dahl, MD, an otolaryngologist at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City.
In those cases, lifestyle and other management strategies may help.
For example: "For noise-induced or age-related hearing loss, hearing aids can be programmed to mask the sound so the patient doesn't notice it as much. Since tinnitus is most noticeable when it's quiet, many people use noise machines at night to sleep," Dr. Dahl says.
Some people have found therapy and stress-management to be helpful, too, she notes.
- Mayo Clinic: “Tinnitus”
- Harvard Medical School: “Tinnitus: Ringing in the ears and what to do about it”
- American Tinnitus Association: “Understanding the Facts”
- Cleveland Clinic: “Tinnitus”
- National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders: “Tinnitus”
- Mayo Clinic: “Tinnitus causes: Could my antidepressant be the culprit?”
- American Journal of Otolaryngology: “Micronutrients in tinnitus: A National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey analysis”
- Ghana Medical Journal: “The Role of Plasma Melatonin and Vitamins C and B12 in the Development of Idiopathic Tinnitus in the Elderly”
- American Tinnitus Association: “The Allure of the ‘Magic Pill’: What Science Says About Dietary Supplements to Help Tinnitus”
- Drugs of the Future: “Pharmacological Treatments for Tinnitus: New and Old”
- Office of Dietary Supplements: “Vitamin B12”
- Noise and Health: “Therapeutic role of Vitamin B12 in patients of chronic tinnitus: A pilot study”
- Kulak Burun Bogaz Ihtis Derg: “Relationship between serum magnesium level and subjective tinnitus”
- Office of Dietary Supplements: “Dietary Reference Intakes (DRIs): Recommended Dietary Allowances and Adequate Intakes, Vitamins”
- Office of Dietary Supplements: “Zinc”
- Johns Hopkins Medicine: “Melatonin for Sleep: Does It Work?”
- Office of Dietary Supplements: “Magnesium”
- University of Maryland Medical Center: Vitamin B12: Overview
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