If you suffer from painful or just plain annoying ringing in your ears (even long after a concert has ended), try these ways to combat tinnitus like a pro.
If you've ever experienced a ringing in your ears following a concert, you know that it's like listening to a teakettle you can't unplug. If you're lucky, the shrillness will subside once you're back to living life at a normal decibel level—but for roughly 1 in 10 U.S. adults, ear drama (better known as tinnitus) is an ongoing issue, according to a study published in the journal JAMA Otolaryngology Head & Neck Surgery.
"Although we are understanding the physiological mechanisms that produce tinnitus more each day, there's still no cure for this problem, so people have to find ways to manage it," says Catherine Palmer, Ph.D., director of the Center for Audiology and Hearing Aids at the Eye & Ear Institute in Pittsburgh.
There are two issues at play—the sound of the tinnitus (which can also strike as buzzing, clicking, or roaring) and your reaction to the sound, which is why coping skills are key. If you think you could be experiencing symptoms of lingering ear ringing, here's what to do:
Get your ears checked out
There are plenty of reasons why you may be hearing phantom noises that go beyond turning the volume up too far on your earbuds, says Palmer. Tinnitus is often a symptom of another health issue, so it's important to get in touch with your healthcare provider and rule out something else first. (Like an ear infection causes by dirty earbuds.) It can be triggered by anything from earwax buildup, hypertension, or even a faulty jawbone (!), according to the Mayo Clinic. Medications—including antibiotics, antidepressants, or even water pills—can also cause tinnitus or make it worse.
Try sound therapy for ringing ears
When the ringing is relentless, quiet activities can drive you crazy—which is why background noise is basically your new best friend. "Humans are better able to tolerate a noise coming from the environment than one coming from inside the head," says Dennis Fitzgerald, M.D., otolaryngologist at Thomas Jefferson University in Philadelphia. You could use a fan or a sound machine, or listen to your fave tunes at a super-low volume. The idea is to have sound around you that isn't so loud that it masks the tinnitus, but blends with it, explains Palmer. This helps you adapt to the ringing like you would to a ticking clock, making your tinnitus a part of the background.
Find ways to de-stress
According to the Mayo Clinic, stress can make tinnitus worse. If you find that the ringing hits an all-time high after a rough day at work or a crappy night's sleep, consider it your body's not-so-subtle way of telling you to slow the eff down. Things like breathing exercises, fun workouts, and meditation can do wonders for your stress level, and may also dilute the noise. "Studies have shown that these types of stress management skills improve people's ability to tolerate physical pain and emotional suffering, and they transfer easily to coping with tinnitus," says psychotherapist Philip Kolba.
Cut back on alcohol
For some, a high alcohol intake can exacerbate tinnitus, says Shabir Mia, M.D., a Saskatchewan-based ENT surgeon. The booze dilates your blood vessels, increasing blood flow to the inner ear area, which can make tinnitus more noticeable. But the American Tinnitus Association points out that everyone's body reacts differently to alcohol, so if you find that a few cocktails don't amp up the inner ear ringing, there's no need to nix happy hour from your routine.
Consider cognitive behavioral therapy
Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) focuses on a person's emotional reaction to tinnitus—so if you find that the incessant ringing puts a damper on how you function in your day-to-day life, a psychologist can help you master effective coping techniques. "Once you know how to manage it, your adverse reactions to tinnitus decrease and you'll be better equipped to cope over the long term," says Palmer.