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 thing.
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 Randy
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 topics
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 obvious.
• Stress management: Stress can make tinnitus worse. Stress management, whether through relaxation therapy, biofeedback or exercise, may provide some relief.
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 (800) 634-8978.