ARE YOUR EARS RINGING?

There is a common superstition that ringing in your ear means someone is talking about you.

Unfortunately for many people, the ringing is due to a condition called tinnitus (TIN-ih-tus), from the Latin tinnire “to ring or tinkle”. It is the experience of noise or ringing in the ear and it affects about 1in 5 people. Tinnitus may be transient but for many it is a chronic, very bothersome condition.

First of all, try to identify the origin. Common causes include:

  • Inner ear cell damage- disruption of the small hairs in the inner ear “leak” random signals to the brain
  • Related to sensorineural hearing loss
  • Earwax blockage
  • Exposure to loud noise
  • Medications

The presence of tinnitus warrants a doctor visit. Referral to ENT or neurology may be warranted. CT or MRI may be needed.

It might be an easy fix. I discovered the joys of ear irrigation. Sounds gross but if your ear is itching like crazy, and you’ve been using Q-tips despite everyone telling you not to 😉 irrigation may be all you need. Fill a bulb syringe with warm water and lean over the sink. You may need a helper. Debrox makes an over the counter earwax removal kit.

I want to emphasize the medication issue. Tinnitus can be the result of very common medications such as antibiotics, particularly those ending in -mycin, aspirin, ibuprofen and other NSAIDs, aspartame (do we need yet another reason to convince people that stuff is nasty?), caffeine or caffeine withdrawal, antidepressants and birth control pills. On a reputable website like Drug Info look up the side effect profile of every single medication you take.

For most, if a reversible cause is not found and a serious cause has been ruled out, it may be one of those things you have to learn to live with and be grateful it isn’t something worse. There is no proven cure for this. Let’s look at some therapies that have been tried:

  • Acupuncture
    Mixed results but there have been several controlled studies that have shown it to be helpful, and it is definitely worth a consult with a skilled acupuncturist. Interestingly according to Chinese medicine, chronic tinnitus is caused by deficiency in the yin of the kidney or too much heat in the liver and gall bladder.
  • Sound therapy/biofeedback
    Mind over matter, using sound as a distraction. While too much sound may cause tinnitus, sound can also be used to interrupt tinnitus generation in the brain.
  • Lipo-Flavonoids
    I have heard reports from patients that this over-the-counter supplement helps. Clinical trials have been inconclusive.
  • Gingko Biloba
    One of the most studied herbal medicines. It is known to enhance blood flow to the brain which may or may not lessen tinnitus. Gingko biloba extract EGb-761in particular, may be superior to placebo.
  • Zinc and B12 supplements
    Deficiencies are common in tinnitus sufferers and should be checked.
  • rTMS
    Transcranial magnetic stimulation has proven effective in some trials.

Have you heard of anything new for tinnitus? Let us know, give us your tricks in the comments below.

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3 comments

  1. I have been flushing my ears out in the shower every morning for over a year and swear by it. If I miss a day I can tell the difference. I think my ears do ring less. Highly recommend.

  2. Actually my newly acquired hearing aids have minimized and some settings completely eliminated my Tinnitus.

    1. That is great news, thanks for sharing. So many patients I see are reluctant to correct their hearing loss and this clearly is an added benefit that may convince them to get it checked.

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