A History of the Weirdest Tinnitus Cures

By Yovina Khiroya

Tinnitus today is a rapidly expanding research area with new advancements being made every day, yet the elusive cure is something that continues to evade scientists. History, however, has a long-line of tinnitus treatments that vary as widely as they come.

Soil & Oil

The very first mention of tinnitus in history dates back to 3000 B.C. when they believed that humming in the ears was caused by a bewitchment placed on them. To treat this, healers would infuse a reed stick with ingredients such as soil, oil and frankincense, which was placed in the ear canal. Chanting and singing would follow to try and banish away the tinnitus, unsurprisingly however, documentation reports that this was not quite as successful as they had hoped.

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"Woman’s Milk"

Around 300 B.C. the trend continued with placing things in the ears. Pliny the Elder, who coined the term tinnitus, recommended a variety of concoctions, from earthworms boiled in goose grease, to woman’s milk. Other treatments altered, based on the location of the sound. For example, if the patient’s tinnitus originated from the head, it was recommended that a mixture of cucumber juice, radish honey and vinegar should be placed in the ear. However, if the tinnitus was perceived as coming from the ears, it was suggested that the patient hold their breath until they laughed.

How any of this was supposed to help is definitely unclear, yet it shows the progression of understanding in that tinnitus can be heard from different locations (i.e. in the head/in the ears) for different people.

Hot bread

Possibly one of the most bizarre was a 14th Century Welsh treatment, which suggested taking a piece of very hot bread, slicing it in two and putting it in each ear. The original manuscript explains, “Bind and thus produce perspiration, and by the help of God you will be cured.” One can only hope.

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Wind

Doctors in the Renaissance times believed tinnitus was caused by trapped wind in the ears. This saw the introduction of surgery as treatment for tinnitus. Surgeons would create a hole in the hard bone behind the external ear, releasing the trapped wind and thus, curing the Tinnitus. Alternatively, a silver tube would be pierced through the eardrum so the surgeon could attempt to suck the wind out themselves.

In spite of these painful remedies, the 19th century did see great advancement in tinnitus research. French physician, Jean Marie Gaspard Itard, for example, is credited with first suggesting a link between hearing loss and tinnitus, a link that holds true today.

Teas and tongue

Some of the more unconventional tinnitus treatments today include tinnitus teas. These usually contain a mixture of calming ingredients, such as camomile and lavender, and the herb, ginkgo biloba. Ginkgo is extracted from the maidenhair tree, one of the oldest tree species on the planet, whose uses in health have been documented for thousands of years. Modern studies, however, have found no firm evidence to suggest the extract can cure tinnitus.

Another of today’s more interesting tinnitus cures is called ‘MuteButton’. The MuteButton is a little box with a set of headphones and electrode attached. Through the headphones the wearer hears a gentle sound whilst the electrode stimulates the tongue. The theory behind this is that the brain will learn to associate real sound with real stimulation of the tongue, thus reducing episodes of tinnitus.

All in all, the days of bizarre tinnitus cures are certainly not over. One can only hope that with continual advancements in science,  cures such as breast milk ear-drops and cranial drilling, will never be put back on the table.