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Can Inflammation cause Tinnitus?

Hello, everyone.

If you've been struggling with a bothersome heartbeat or whooshing sound in your ears, then you'll definitely want to check into this one.

Tinnitus is a bothersome condition that affects up to 50 million Americans, myself included, which is quite a few of us.

The trouble is that most conventional treatments for tinnitus are simply coping strategies and they don't tackle the root cause, which is often inflammation.

In this topic, we're going to take a deep dive into the association between inflammation and tinnitus followed by actionable steps that you can take to tackle inflammation and get relief from that bothersome tinnitus.

Let's jump in.

Hello everyone. My name is Katie Krejci and I am a gut health functional medicine dietitian at Oswald Digestive Clinic, where we help people improve and eliminate bothersome gut issues like gas, bloat, diarrhea, constipation, and more.

You can schedule an initial appointment on our website or just start by downloading our FREE GUIDE: 5 ways to improve gut health.

What is Tinnitus?

So today's topic is all about the relationship between tinnitus and inflammation, but let's start with the basics.

Tinnitus is a condition where the individual hears ringing roaring clicking hissing, or even buzzing inside their ear. And it can be one ear, it can be both ears and it can come and go in variable waves or intensity. It can range from mild and barely noticeable to severe and debilitating.

4 Different Types of Tinnitus

Did you know that there are actually four different types of tinnitus?

This is triggered by physical movement in the body, such as movement of the jaw, the face, the head, the neck, or the shoulders. So if you notice a wave of that whooshing noise while yawning or clenching your jaw, this might be your type. Often TMJ is involved in cases of somatic tinnitus.

This one is vascular in nature and related to issues within the eustachian tube. And it can actually be heard by placing a stethoscope near the ear canal.

This is the most common form. And unfortunately has no clear physical cause like in the types above. And this is the type that is likely associated with inflammation and will be the type that we're focusing our discussion on today.

This one is similar to subjective tinnitus. However, this form is rooted in physical damage to the inner ear and is often associated with true hearing loss.

Now traditional treatments for tinnitus include hearing aids to mask the whooshing sound and cognitive behavioral therapy for coping strategies, neither of which are that effective. And they certainly don't address the root cause of tinnitus. They are just coping strategies.

As a functional nutrition provider, I think you and I can do better than that by tackling a common root cause of that subjective tinnitus, which is inflammation.

Now, before we jump into the association between tinnitus and inflammation, an important thing to note is that there are still a lot of things that we don't know about tinnitus, especially that tricky subjective tinnitus, but I'll do my best to provide you with the most up to date information that we know at this point.

There's even another exciting study that will be completed just this month that's focused on inflammation and tinnitus. So more and more information is coming out on this topic. Alright, let's dive in.


Inflammation is a common topic in our functional nutrition practice because it is at the root of nearly all chronic diseases and tinnitus is no different.

A 2022 systematic review and meta-analysis found a clear association between acute tinnitus and elevated inflammatory markers like TNF-alpha and Interleukin-1β (IL-1), both of these markers impact NMDA and GABA receptors, which can lead to an increase in excitatory brain impulses and a decrease in inhibitory brain impulses.

And when this happens, neural and synaptic plasticity or physical changes in the brain can occur ultimately leading to tinnitus.

Another study that was published just this year found that CRP levels or C reactive protein, which is an inflammatory marker were significantly higher in the group of individuals with tinnitus compared to a healthy control group.

The researchers also dug a little bit further and identified that when CRP levels are elevated, there is a deactivation of the orbital frontal cortex. And this area of the brain has been associated with being part of the whole tinnitus distressed network.

So this is all very new research, and I think we're finally getting somewhere, which is super exciting. So now let's try to get to the bottom of the issue.

Where does the inflammation come from?

So inflammation can come from many, many areas such as high blood sugar and toxins to even just stress, but the largest impact typically comes from the food that we eat, the standard American diet or the sad diet is typically filled with inflammatory foods, such as processed carbohydrates, simple sugars, gluten, inflammatory seed oils, artificial colors, and many more.

Food sensitivities are also becoming more and more common due to poor gut health and consuming foods that you're sensitive to can also trigger inflammation.

So where do we start to reduce inflammation?

A great place to start is shopping the perimeter of the grocery store avoiding those tempting center aisles of processed food, cooking from scratch, and really focusing on quality healing whole foods is key.

We want to eliminate things like gluten, sugar, and inflammatory seed oils, like soybean oil, canola oil, and cottonseed oil to name a few are a great place to start. I'd like to challenge you to take a peek at the items in your fridge, and your pantry.

And I'm sure most of them have some form of gluten sugar or inflammatory oils in them. They are very common additives and processed foods like chips, crackers, and even things like salad, dressings, and mayo.

Instead, we want to be focusing on quality meats. So organic pasture-raised grass-fed and wild-caught when possible, organic produce, and healthy fats like avocados, grass-fed ghee, cold pressed coconut oil, cold-pressed olive oil, nuts, and seeds.

And what this would look like in action is having organic pasture-raised eggs with a vegetable hash for breakfast, having a kale salad with some of your favorite chopped veggies and blueberries with a homemade olive oil dressing with some thinly sliced organic grass-fed steak for lunch, followed by some roasted sweet potatoes and bell peppers with baked salmon for dinner. Yum!

Eating whole foods is a great way to reduce inflammation and improve your health, including that bothersome tinnitus.

If all of this seems really overwhelming to you, we would love to help you out at Oswald Digestive Clinic. Schedule an initial appointment with us to get connected.

Once you have tackled eating whole foods, that's always step number one.

Then you can consider adding on other supplements to further your efforts in reducing inflammation.

If it's even needed at that point. Some great inflammation-fighting supplements out there are curcumin, ginger, or fish oil, probiotics can also help.

So if you're looking for some recommendations on high-quality anti-inflammatory supplements, I have a few of my favorites:


1. Omega Pure EPA-DHA 1000

2. Curcumin 400x

3. UltraBiotic Complete

If you're overweight or obese, engaging in weight loss is another great way to reduce inflammation.

Yep. You heard me right. Excess fat actually releases its own inflammatory cytokines. A recent 2021 study on obese individuals found that those who engaged in diet and physical activity experienced a significant improvement in their tinnitus score compared to those in the control group.

Interestingly, within the intervention group, the improvement was even more pronounced in those who lost greater than 5% of their weight compared to those who lost less than 5% of their weight.

Another often forgotten trigger for inflammation is poor gut health.

Yep. About 70% of our immune system is in our gut. So if our gut is disrupted, then our immune system is disrupted, which can result in inflammation running wild. Plus our gut itself can be a source of inflammation.

Our gut is a host of a complex microbiome, which consists of trillions of beneficial microorganisms. However, this balance can become disrupted or overrun with bad types of bacteria. And when this occurs, we can experience leaky gut, GI symptoms, and of course inflammation.

Our recent meta-analysis was released in 2022 to evaluate the link between gut health and tinnitus. And they have confirmed what we've been suspecting all along. When our gut microbiome is out of balance, the production of key neurotransmitters like GABA and serotonin is negatively impacted.

When this happens, there's an increase in pro-inflammatory cytokines that can contribute to the neuro-inflammatory process associated with tinnitus at Oswald Digestive Clinic, we are experts at balancing gut issues and battling inflammation.

So if the idea of tackling all of this on your own seems overwhelming, we would love to help you. We can even run comprehensive testing, like stool tests or food sensitivity tests to get to the bottom of your symptoms. You can get in touch with us by scheduling an appointment with us.


Lastly, our conversation wouldn't be complete without talking about stress.

A 2022 study found that the group with tinnitus had a much higher perceived stress score and inflammatory markers compared to the control group that didn't have tinnitus. Therefore, it's very likely that chronic stress plays a part in triggering the inflammatory process that's associated with tinnitus and we've known for years, that stress itself is inflammatory and can disrupt our gut.

So this doesn't come as a surprise and let's be honest. I know that reducing stress is easier said than done, but it does work.

When I notice my tinnitus is flaring, I'll often realize that I'm tense and holding my breath or doing shallow breathing by taking some deep cleansing calming breaths, the tinnitus tends to die down.

Getting into a daily routine of incorporating stress relieving techniques is something that I commonly include in my work with my clients.

Techniques to reduce stress

There are a lot of different techniques out there and you might need to try a few of them until you're able to find one that works well for you.

Stress relieving techniques are a lot like exercise. Someone might prefer jogging while another prefers weightlifting. Yet another prefers Pilates.

You might have to try out a few until you find a good fit that you enjoy and can be consistent with. So what are some of these techniques?

The first is a guided meditation, and this can be particularly helpful you don't have to do a marathon meditation of 30 minutes to make a difference. Even five minutes has been shown to be beneficial.

A 2018 study found that the participants who engaged in daily meditation for just 21 days experienced a significant reduction in stress and inflammatory markers, such as cortisol, interleukin six, and TNF alpha. They even found a beneficial impact on gene expression. So that refers to how our genes behave.

If you'd like to give meditation a try, there are some great apps out there that you can get on your phone, like Headspace and Calm. And just make that part of your daily routine.

Deep belly breathing is one of my favorites and something you can incorporate anywhere at work in your car before bed you name it.