The only problem is, for many, there is no cure. Now a new study is underway to see if a common, over-the-counter supplement might help quiet the noise.
When Travis Broome is playing video games with his friends, he doesn't seem to notice the constant ringing in his ears. But when the music stops, the ringing starts again. "It sounds like tone - like on television - and a mosquito buzzing," says Broome.
It's a problem that started months ago when Travis was at a wedding reception. "I got a little too close to one of the speakers at a very loud part of the song and I recall it sort of being a little shocking at the time," says Broome. The medical term for that ringing sound is tinnitus. Technically, it's not so much a sound in the ear as it is a short-circuit in the brain.
"The brain picks up on this pathway of sound and then plays it over and over again," says Abraham Jacob, MD, at Ohio State University Medical Center. Hoping to break that cycle, Dr. Jacob is launching a study. In serious cases, there is no cure for tinnitus, but Dr. Jacob wants to see if the over-the-counter supplement melatonin might help.
"Melatonin is essentially a hormone-type agent that is produced by our own brain. It helps us regulate sleep. But there have been two small studies that suggest there might be some benefit in tinnitus," says Dr. Jacob. Jacob's study will be larger and more thorough than previous studies, involving more patients like Travis who are looking for some sound solutions to this annoying problem.
Doctors say tinnitus can be caused by a sudden loud noise, or it can appear with no obvious cause. Because there is no cure, many patients simply learn to cope with the sound or use white noise to cover it up.