You can manage but not cure tinnitus
By Jim Miller
Editor: Have you noticed how much attention is being paid to tinnitus
recently? I think it's because we baby boomers are looking for answers
regarding this and other hearing loss issues. I think that's a very good
Thanks to Jim Miller for permission to share this article. You can view
more of his articles at www.SavvySenior.org .
Dear Savvy Senior: I'm 56 years old and in pretty good health, but
recently I've noticed a constant ringing in my ears that's very irritating.
What can you tell me about this and is there anything I can do? - Ringing
Dear Randy: The ringing in your ears could be a condition called tinnitus
(ti-NIGHT-us), a common problem that affects nearly 50 million Americans.
Here's what you should know.
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.
Causes: It's important to know that tinnitus is not a disease, but a
symptom that can be caused by a variety of medical conditions. The best way
to find out what's causing your tinnitus is to get a complete physical
examination, including a thorough hearing test. The various things that can
cause tinnitus are:
• Age: The natural process of aging can result in damaged or deteriorated
auditory cells in the inner ear causing hearing loss - leading to tinnitus.
This process usually begins around age 60.
• Loud noise: The most common cause of tinnitus and hearing loss is
exposure to loud noises. In fact about 90 percent of all tinnitus patients
have some level of noise-induced hearing loss.
• Earwax: A build-up of wax deep in the ear canal can cause temporary
tinnitus and hearing loss. Have your ears checked and if necessary, cleaned.
• Medication: 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.
• Medical conditions: Various medical conditions can also cause tinnitus
such as high blood pressure, vascular disease, 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.
More on this and related
Treating tinnitus: 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,
etc.) treating the condition may reduce or eliminate the noise. Or, if you
think a medication you're taking may be causing the problem, switching to a
different drug, or lowering the dosage may provide some relief. But, if the
noise in your ears is due to age-related hearing loss or damage to your ears
by exposure to excessive noise - there is no treatment. There is however
some things you can do to reduce the severity of the noise, including:
• Avoiding irritants: Tinnitus can be aggravated by loud noises,
nicotine, caffeine, tonic water, alcohol and various medications.
• Cover the noise: In a quiet setting, a fan, soft music or a white noise
machine can help mask the noise from tinnitus. For some people, tinnitus
maskers (a device that looks like a hearing aid) that produce a pleasant
noise may also help.
• Hearing aid relief: If your tinnitus is accompanied by hearing loss,
hearing aids can amplify outside sounds, making the tinnitus noise less
• Stress management: Stress can make tinnitus worse. Stress management,
whether through relaxation therapy, biofeedback or exercise, may provide
Savvy tips: While there's currently no drugs approved by the FDA to treat
tinnitus, anti-anxiety drugs, antidepressants and antihistamines have been
known to help. Alternative treatments like ginkgo biloba, zinc, magnesium
and acupuncture are also worth looking into. Another option to consider is
tinnitus retraining therapy, which can help you retrain your mind to ignore
the noise. As always, talk to your doctor before trying any new treatments.
For more information on treating or managing tinnitus, or to locate a
tinnitus health care specialist in your area, visit www.ata.org or call