By Susan de Bondt, Au.D and Taylor Devito, Au.D (Clinical Education Specialists at Widex)
Do you experience ringing in your ears? You are not alone. Over 750 million people around the world experience what is called tinnitus — which can be defined as a persistent ringing sound in the ears. Some describe it as a buzzing or a whining. Regardless, it can be extremely debilitating for those suffering from it, with proven negative effects on psychological well-being.
Struggling to find relief, many turn to social media in hopes of finding a quick fix. In some cases, social media can be a valuable tool for sharing information and fostering community support. However, it’s also rife with misinformation that can spread like wildfire. With one quick online search, you may unknowingly take yourself down a rabbit hole that’ll only end with disappointment and wasted time. The reality is that the causes of tinnitus and the solutions for managing it’s effects are actually quite complex.
The Depth of Falsehood
In 2019, the Hearing Journal conducted a study to investigate just how pervasive the tinnitus misinformation problem really is. The study involved a comprehensive evaluation of three social media platforms by searching the keywords ”tinnitus” and “ringing in the ears” on Facebook (pages and groups), Twitter (accounts), and YouTube (videos).
The findings are shocking; 44% of public Facebook groups and 30% of YouTube video search results contained misinformation (the authors defined misinformation as any shared information that is currently considered untrue, lacking peer-reviewed evidence, or uninvestigated at the time of the study). Out of all Twitter accounts, 34% contained what was classified as misinformation.
Whether it came from well-intentioned individuals sharing personal experiences, commercial interests promoting bogus miracle cures, or even malicious actors seeking to exploit vulnerable populations, the result is the same, the spread of false information.
False Hope from Diet Changes and Product Purchases
The examples are numerous, from misleading testimonials to exaggerated claims to flat out falsehoods. Some include lifestyle changes, like switching up your diet. While it is true that certain individuals have reported that caffeine and alcohol consumption made their tinnitus worse, no diet or lifestyle change will cure your tinnitus entirely.
Even more common were a slew of home remedies, including oils, ear drops, and even supplements – all of which were presented as tinnitus cures. Several products and supplements were sold and marketed across platforms, with some priced in the hundreds of dollars. Many of these products have undergone in-depth clinical investigation, all of which revealed meager benefits aside from a potential placebo effect.
The TikTok Problem
Since the Hearing Journal’s 2019 study, little has been done to curb the spread of false claims. If anything, they have gained traction since the advent of TikTok. The video sharing app experienced significant growth starting in 2019, with its user base exploding during the pandemic year of 2020.
The app’s short-form videos, typically ranging from 15 to 60 seconds in length, are immensely popular for their entertaining and easily digestible style. Such brevity, however, leaves little room for in-depth explanation, making the app a hotbed for a new wave of tinnitus misinformation.
On TikTok, lifestyle recommendations are more bizarre than ever, such as cutting out milk, adhering to an anti-inflammatory diet or even refraining from drinking tap water. Yet, strangely, physical exercises appear the most. Some of the absurdities include tapping a spoon under your earlobe or pressing on certain pressure points. However, the most “viral” trend recommends a technique called head tapping.
The technical term is “Suboccipital Muscle Release.” It simply involves covering your ears with your hands and tapping your fingers several times on the back of your head.
This small group of Suboccipital muscles can become tense due to poor posture, stress, and muscle imbalances. Some say there is a potential connection between muscle tension, particularly in the neck and suboccipital area, and tinnitus for particular individuals.
What is more likely happening during this exercise is a physical form of tinnitus masking, which involves introducing external sounds, often referred to as “masking sounds,” to help reduce the perception of the tinnitus sound or to make it less noticeable.
The basic idea behind tinnitus masking is to provide an alternative sound that either masks the tinnitus noise or shifts the focus away from it, making the tinnitus less bothersome.
When one thumps the back of their head with ears covered, the sound resonates and produces a sensation of your head being in the inside of a drum. Thus, instead of masking tinnitus sounds with white noise for instance, the person is doing so with drum-like sounds inside their head.
It is all relatively harmless and may work for some people. The problem arises when it is presented all over TikTok and other forms of social media as a tinnitus cure. There is no cure for tinnitus. There are, however, legitimate, science-based treatments and therapies that can help people manage their symptoms and improve quality of life.
Hope through Expert Consultation
In short, wading through so many untruths can be a daunting challenge for anyone diagnosed with tinnitus. The reality is checking facts can be time-consuming and a large amount of the misinformation provided can be enticing but not necessarily helpful. If you have been suffering from a condition that is said to be incurable, of course you would want to believe something or someone can help.
However, for both those newly suffering from tinnitus and those already well acquainted with the symptoms, it is critical to resist the temptation.
False or sensationalized information on social media can amplify existing anxiety and stress, leading to worsened psychological symptoms. The emotional baggage of living with tinnitus is hard enough. Inaccurate information and false hope will only make the experience worse.
That is why it is always important to seek accurate and reliable information from trusted sources, such as a reputable audiologist or hearing care professional. Clinicians are well-equipped to combat tinnitus-related misinformation and assist you with the proper techniques and technologies required to effectively manage your condition.
The perception of tinnitus and its impact on day-to-day quality of life varies greatly from one individual to the next. Consulting with a professional who is equipped to do a detailed evaluation of the tinnitus origin, presentation and effects and who can tailor a treatment specifically to your needs increases the chances of successful management.
According to the Mayo Clinic, 90 percent of those with tinnitus have some underlying form of hearing loss, meaning that in many cases, the sound amplification reintroduced by modern hearing aids goes a long way toward dissipating the effects of tinnitus. However, some individuals need additional help.
Widex hearing aids include a sound therapy technology that leverages scientifically validated tones that are generated inside the devices. These tones create a type of musical stimulus that is predictable but never repeated and is designed to promote relaxation.
As a result, the mind gets to focus more easily; both mind and body benefit from the therapeutic properties of the provided sound therapy. Both amplification and sound therapy have proven effective in reducing the awareness of tinnitus.
Clinical evidence backs up the positive long-term effects of Widex’ tinnitus management technology on tinnitus severity and shows it to be a strong option for tinnitus management, as well as supporting overall relaxation, concentration, and well-being for all wearers.