North Jefferson News, Gardendale, AL

February 25, 2011

Savvy Senior

Tinnitus: Tips and treatments for ringing ears


North Jefferson News

COMMENTARY — Dear Savvy Senior

What can you tell me

the about the constant ear

ringing syndrome known

as tinnitus?

At

age 56, I

have had

it for several

years

but it has gotten more and

more noticeable lately. Is

there anything I can do?

— Ringing Rhonda

Dear Rhonda,

Tinnitus (pronounced

ti-NIGHT-us) is a common

disorder that affects nearly

one in six Americans.

Here’s what you should

know along with some tips

and treatments that may

help.

Ringing ears

Tinnitus is the sensation

of hearing a ringing,

buzzing, roaring, hissing

or whistling sound in one

or both ears when no

external sound is present.

The sounds, which can

vary in pitch and loudness,

are usually worse when

background noise is low,

so you may be most aware

of it at night when you’re

trying to fall asleep in a

quiet room. For most people

tinnitus is merely

annoying, but for many

others it can be extremely

disturbing.

What causes tinnitus?

It’s important to know

that tinnitus is not a disease,

but a symptom that

can be caused by a variety

of underlying conditions.

The best way to find out

what’s causing your tinnitus

is to see an audiologist,

or ear, nose and

throat doctor (otolaryngologist).

The various things

that can cause tinnitus are:

• Exposure to loud

noise: This is the most

common cause.

• Hearing loss: For

many people, hearing loss

can cause tinnitus.

• Earwax: A build-up of

wax deep in the ear canal

can cause temporary tinnitus

and hearing loss.

• Medications: Over

200 different drugs can

cause ringing ears including

aspirin, especially

when taken in high doses.

For a list of drugs that can

cause tinnitus call the

American Tinnitus

Association at 800-634-

8978.

• Health conditions:

Various medical conditions

can also trigger tinnitus

such as high blood

pressure, vascular disease,

diabetes, allergies, thyroid

problems, ear or sinus

infections, Meniere’s disease,

otosclerosis, temporomandibular

joint

(TMJ) syndrome, a tumor,

an injury to the head or

neck and more.

Treating the causes

While there’s currently

no cure for tinnitus there

are some ways to treat it

depending on the cause.

For example, if your tinnitus

is caused by a medical

condition (high blood

pressure, thyroid problems,

ear infection, etc.)

treating the condition may

reduce or eliminate the

noise. If you have wax

build-up in your ears,

removing it can help. Or,

if you think a medication

you’re taking may be causing

the problem, switching

to a different drug, or lowering

the dosage (with a

doctor’s approval) may

provide some relief.

Other treatments

Another treatment

option for tinnitus that can

help suppress or mask the

sound so it’s less bothersome

are “sound therapies.”

These can be something

as simple as a fan or a

white noise machine, or

something more sophisticated

like small electronic

masking device that you

wear, or a music therapy

device like Neuromonics

(see neuromonics.com)

that actually trains your

brain not to hear the

tinnitus. Or, if you have

hearing loss, hearing aids

can help mask your tinnitus

by improving your ability

to hear actual sounds.

Your audiologist or hearing

health professional can

help you with these

options.

There are also certain

medications that help too.

While there’s currently no

drugs specifically designed

to treat tinnitus, anti-anxiety

drugs, antidepressants,

antihistamines, anesthetics,

as well as drugs intended

to treat alcoholism, epilepsy

and even Alzheimer’s

have been effective in

reliving symptoms in some

people. Alternative treatments

like acupuncture,

hypnosis, massage therapy,

biofeedback, meditation,

the herb ginkgo and zinc

supplements are also

worth looking into. And

counseling and support

groups can also be helpful.

Other things you can do

to help quiet the noise is

to avoid things that can

aggravate the problem like

salt, artificial sweeteners,

sugar, alcohol, tonic water,

tobacco and caffeine. And

protect yourself from loud

noises by wearing

earplugs.

Savvy tip

For more information,

visit the American

Tinnitus Association’s at

ata.org.

Send your senior questions

to: Savvy Senior, P.O.

Box 5443, Norman, OK

73070, or visit

SavvySenior.org. Jim

Miller is a contributor to

the NBC Today show and

author of “The Savvy

Senior” book.