Sound therapy helps beat tinnitus

You don't have to be particularly religious to appreciate the melodic ringing of church bells. But a ringing in the ears is another story.

It's a condition called tinnitus, and it can range from a slight and occasional nuisance to a constant and maddening presence.

There's no drug that'll cure it, but natural therapies can work wonders. And now, researchers say some cases of tinnitus can be eased through a combination of simple talk therapy and a little bit of relaxing ocean sounds.

In the new study, 247 tinnitus patients were sent to audiologists but not given any specific treatment other than whatever that audiologist recommended.

Another 245 patients were sent off for a combination of two treatments: a sound machine pumping out calming ocean waves in an attempt to "retrain" the ears, and cognitive behavioral therapy (that's a type of psychotherapy).

A year later, these combo patients reported improvements in quality of life as well as less fear and fewer negative thoughts related to the condition, according to the study in Lancet.

But it wasn't exactly a cure, either, because the ringing was still there -- the treatments just helped the patients to live with it better.

That might be an improvement for patients who suffer from tinnitus caused by psychological factors. But most cases of tinnitus have a real cause inside the body -- and a much better and more permanent solution is to find that cause and correct it.

In many cases, tinnitus is the result of poor blood circulation in the inner ear. Neither talk therapy nor the sounds of ocean waves -- or even the two together -- will do a thing to correct that. But circulation-enhancing supplements such as ginkgo biloba or vinpocetine can improve blood circulation and improve the condition.

For many other tinnitus patients, the real "cure" isn't a cure so much as avoiding the cause.

Caffeine, nicotine, and food sensitivities can all cause or worsen the condition. It's also a side effect of common drugs, including antidepressants, diuretics, aspirin, NSAIDs, and antibiotics.

Learn to find and tune out the cause, and you can tune out the ringing for good. The ocean sounds are nice, but they're entirely optional.