Tinnitus or ringing of the ears is a common condition that affects 10-15% of the population worldwide and in the United States, as many as 50 million individuals. While this condition usually affects those, who are 50 years old and above, some children and adolescents are affected as well. The risk factors for tinnitus includes:

  • Smoking
  • Exposure to loud noises
  • Cardiovascular disease
  • Head and neck injuries
  • Temporomandibular joint disorders
  • Allergies

The majority of those afflicted have been able to adapt to the symptoms of tinnitus and lead normal lives. However, there is a small portion of patients who have severe and debilitating tinnitus and suffer extremely from the other symptoms of tinnitus such as:

  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Irritability
  • Poor concentration
  • Poor performance at school or work

History of Tinnitus and It’s Remedies

However, tinnitus is not something new. In fact, it has existed for a long time. Tinnitus has been regarded as a symptom of ear disease where its’ description and treatment has even been featured in many tribal medicine. In 1907, Politzer described the beliefs of the Annamite tribe located in Eastern India where they thought tinnitus to be caused by a small animal that inhabits the ear. When the animal is upset due to a fight or presence of a foreign body, it will result in tinnitus. The tribe treated tinnitus using fumigation where skins of non-poisonous snakes were burnt.

The very first recorded writing on tinnitus was regarding its treatment and it came from the Egyptians and Mesopotamians. The ancient Egyptian remedies were written on papyrus and passed down through generations of doctors and priests. One of the main documents that survived dates back to the beginning of the sixteenth century which contains treatment for a “bewitched ear”, presumed to be tinnitus. The treatment describes the infusion of balanities oil and frankincense, both of which were extensively used by the Egyptians for the treatment of ear disease. Other ingredients used include tree sap, herbs, and soil.

In another papyrus document from Crocodilopolis containing treatments for humming in the ears dates back to the sixth century B.C. the treatment describes an insertion of a reed stalk into the external canal of the ear. A mixture of drugs consisting of the sap of black reed, herbs, salt, Hal wort, oleo-resin, oily ointment, and sap of lotus is applied through the reed stalk. Fresh medicinal oil of rose is first strained and eventually applied.


Rituals And Natural Drugs For Used To Treat Tinnitus

The Assyrians and Mesopotamian treatments were recorded on clay tablets and were translated by the British Museum. The treatments recorded were mostly rituals but there were also many important drugs recorded such as cannabis, belladonna, and opium. These tablets are believed to describe tinnitus as it recorded the “singing of the ears”, “whispering of the ears” and “speaking of the ears”. An incantation which said “Whoever thou may be, may E restrain me” was then recited and rose extract is poured into the ear through a bronze tube. E referred to their god of water. Another incantation used was “It hath flown against me. It hath attacked me. O seven heavens, seven earths, seven winds, seven fires, by heaven be ye exorcised”.

Pliny the Elder was a Roman scholar whose treatment for tinnitus consisted of boiling earthworms in goose grease and pouring it into the ear. Greco-Roman medicine then was able to progress more, and they were the first to try to relate tinnitus to the underlying cause of the disease. If it was believed to be due to a cold, they believed that the ear should be cleaned out while the patient holds their breath until humor froths from it. If believed to be originating from the head, exercise, gargling, dieting, and placing a combination of radish, cucumber juice, honey and vinegar into the ear is recommended.

The works of Aristotle and Hippocrates introduced the idea of masking through the saying, “Why is it that buzzing in the ear stops if another sound is made? Is it possible that a louder sound drives out the less?”. Early Welsh physicians told their tinnitus patients to place freshly baked bread that is as hot as possible over their affected ears as it will produce perspiration leading to the cure of tinnitus. They also performed ear candling, a practice that is still performed today. The burning candle is placed in the ear to try to draw out excessive wax and debris where some have claimed that it is beneficial for tinnitus and sinus issues.


Historic Treatments Of Tinnitus Tried

All these treatments were based on what the physicians believed tinnitus to be. For example, physicians who think that tinnitus is caused by wind being trapped in the ear believed that the treatment consisted of drilling a hole into the bones surrounding the ear to release the wind. They also utilize a silver tube to suck the trapped wind out of the ear canal.

By the nineteenth century, a Frenchman Jean Marie Gaspard Itard made significant progress in the study of tinnitus where some of his ideas still adhered to this day. He associated tinnitus with hearing loss and was able to provide descriptions of subjective (only heard by the patient) and objective (heard by the patient and others) tinnitus. He recognized that the treatment for tinnitus often fails but it can be made to be more bearable, usually through masking.

Even in these modern era, strange treatment options have been developed where some patients who try to find relief had surgery to have their auditory nerve severed. Forty-five percent of patients claim that their tinnitus have improved after surgery while the other fifty-five percent reported that their tinnitus stayed the same or have gotten worse. This indicates that tinnitus does not only happen in the ear but in the brain as well. In a recent trick that gained viral popularity on Reddit (a forum), the technique that involves firmly tapping the back of the head has been reported to provide transient relief for tinnitus sufferers.


Conclusion on Historical Remedies for Tinnitus

Tinnitus has been recognized since the early ages and the treatment for it has progressed through different cultures. Despite being recognized for such a long time, there is still little understanding and effective treatment for tinnitus patients are still scarce. With the advancement of modern medicine, there are now many treatment options that can provide symptomatic relief for those afflicted by it.