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HomeHealth TopicEar Care and Hearing

What Over-the-Counter Medications Help Tinnitus? A Look at OTC Pills and Proven Treatments

Nicole E. Cieri-Hutcherson, PharmD, BCPS, NCMPAustin Ulrich, PharmD, BCACP
Published on July 19, 2022

Key takeaways:

  • Tinnitus is a ringing sensation in the ears that could be caused by some health conditions or medications.

  • There are a few over-the-counter (OTC) supplements sold for tinnitus. But none are FDA approved to treat this symptom.

  • OTC pills for tinnitus may have one ingredient or a combination of vitamins and herbs. Common ingredients include ginkgo biloba, zinc, and vitamin B12.

Man suffering from ringing in his ears. He is squinting and pulling at his hair.
Juanmonino/iStock via Getty Images

Are you experiencing ringing in the ears? You might have tinnitus. Like many symptoms, tinnitus has a few over-the-counter (OTC) remedies on the market. But what works, and what doesn't? 

What is tinnitus?

People often define tinnitus as a ringing sound in their ears. But it might also be described as a buzzing, clicking, or other sounds in the ear. Tinnitus can happen to one ear or both ears. It can also be an early sign of hearing loss for some older adults.

Tinnitus is very common. About 1 in 10 U.S. adults have experienced at least 5 minutes of it in the previous year. But for some people, tinnitus can become chronic and interfere with their daily lives.

What causes tinnitus?

Tinnitus isn’t considered a health condition on its own. It could be a symptom of a problem with a part of the auditory system. The auditory system includes certain parts of the ear, nerves around the ear, and the sound-processing center of the brain. Researchers still aren’t clear on what in the brain actually causes these sounds. But we do know several things that can lead to tinnitus.

Some possible causes of tinnitus include:

However, tinnitus doesn’t always have a clear cause.

What OTC pills for tinnitus are available?

As mentioned above, some medications can cause tinnitus. But there are also some OTC dietary supplements that are sold with the claim that they may help with tinnitus. Lipo-Flavonoid, Synapse XT, and Ring Stop are a few examples of brand-name pills for tinnitus relief.

Keep in mind that no OTC tinnitus supplements have been reviewed by the FDA. This means that they haven’t been extensively tested for safety or for how well they work.

What ingredients do tinnitus pills contain?

Some OTC pills for tinnitus have a combination of ingredients, such as vitamins and herbs. Some of the common ingredients include:

Do OTC tinnitus pills work?

Although there are many OTC medications marketed for relief of tinnitus, none have been shown to work consistently in clinical trials.

Ginkgo biloba

Ginkgo biloba is a Chinese herb that is most often marketed for memory enhancement. But it’s also been studied for treatment of tinnitus. Some researchers think ginkgo biloba may relieve tinnitus by improving blood flow. 

A small amount of evidence suggests there may be a benefit to using ginkgo biloba for relief of tinnitus. But the majority of research has not found this to be true.

Ginkgo biloba can raise the risk of bleeding. So you should discuss using it with your healthcare provider if you take blood thinners. Ginkgo biloba can also raise the risk of seizures for people taking other medications that have this side effect, such as bupropion.

Zinc

Zinc is a nutrient that may play a role in sound processing by helping to keep nerves healthy. So it’s been investigated whether taking zinc supplements may improve tinnitus. However, there isn’t much research available on zinc as a tinnitus pill. In a review of three small studies of adults with tinnitus, zinc didn’t improve tinnitus.

Zinc supplements have few side effects. They may cause taste changes, nausea, and vomiting. Zinc can interact with certain medications, such as quinolone antibiotics, tetracycline antibiotics, and other vitamins and minerals. Doses of zinc should be taken at least 2 hours before or 4 hours after these medications.

Vitamin B12

Vitamin B12 helps the nervous system work well. And it helps with the formation of healthy red blood cells. Vitamin B12 supplements may be needed if you have low vitamin B12 levels. It may also be recommended if you have certain health conditions, such as anemia or tingling or numbness in the hands or feet.

Sometimes, people with tinnitus have low levels of vitamin B12. A small study of 40 people evaluated giving vitamin B12 injections to people experiencing tinnitus. About half of the people had low vitamin B12, and the other half didn’t. Researchers found that vitamin B12 injections improved tinnitus symptoms for people who had low vitamin B12 levels. Participants who had normal levels didn’t see the same benefit.

So, vitamin B12 might be helpful if your tinnitus is a symptom of vitamin B12 deficiency. But keep in mind that this small study looked at injectable vitamin B12 (a prescription-only medication). OTC pills for tinnitus are taken by mouth and may not provide the same benefits.

Vitamin B12 is unlikely to cause any side effects. But some medications may lower the absorption of vitamin B12, including certain heartburn medications and metformin.

Melatonin

Melatonin is a natural hormone that promotes normal sleep patterns. As a supplement, it’s often used for insomnia and jet lag. Tinnitus may worsen or disrupt sleep for some people. As such, some research has focused on giving melatonin to see if it helped improve sleep.

As with ginkgo biloba, mixed data exists for melatonin. Some studies suggest that melatonin may improve tinnitus symptoms. Other researchers have found that it may work as well as sertraline (Zoloft), an antidepressant that’s also been studied for tinnitus. However, other studies have not found that melatonin improves tinnitus symptoms.

If you use melatonin, be aware of some of the side effects it can cause. These may include daytime sleepiness and headache. Melatonin can also interact with several other medications, herbs, and supplements. It’s best to review your current medication list with your pharmacist or healthcare provider prior to starting melatonin.

What tinnitus treatments are proven to work?

No medications have been FDA approved for the treatment of tinnitus. But many medications have been studied and may be prescribed off-label.

Some classes of medications used for tinnitus include:

Although many of these medications have been studied for tinnitus treatment, they may work for some people but not for others. Some of these medications may also worsen tinnitus. That’s why it’s important to discuss your tinnitus with your healthcare provider. That way, they can suggest options they think might work for you.

The bottom line

There are some OTC pills sold for tinnitus. Research suggests that most ingredients in OTC pills are unlikely to help with tinnitus, but more research still needs to be done. Also, some supplements may only work in certain situations, such as in the case of vitamin B12.

Some OTC tinnitus pills tend to have multiple ingredients. These ingredients have side effects and drug interactions that are important to be aware of. That’s why you should discuss any OTC medications and supplements you’re considering with your healthcare provider or pharmacist before starting them.

References

Abtahi, S. H., et al. (2017). Comparison of melatonin and sertraline therapies on tinnitus: A randomized clinical trial. International Journal of Preventive Medicine.

British Tinnitus Association. (2020). Tinnitus and Synapse XT.

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Hurtuk, A., et al, A. (2011). Melatonin: can it stop the ringing?. The Annals of Otology, Rhinology, and Laryngology.

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MedlinePlus. (2021). Melatonin.

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GoodRx Health has strict sourcing policies and relies on primary sources such as medical organizations, governmental agencies, academic institutions, and peer-reviewed scientific journals. Learn more about how we ensure our content is accurate, thorough, and unbiased by reading our editorial guidelines.

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