The word tinnitus (pronounced ti-NIGHT-us or TIN-i-tus) comes from Latin and means “to tinkle or to ring like a bell.” It’s the medical term for the perception of sound when no external sound is present. In other words it’s a hearing a ringing or roaring noise in your ear when it’s not actually there…
- come on gradually, or abruptly,
- and last for a short time, return sporadically, or be permanent,
- and it can occur in one ear or both.
The sounds may be high- or low-pitched, loud or soft, intermittent or continuous, and may be heard as a buzzing, roaring, hissing, clicking, high-pitched whining, low-pitched hum, even a heart-like pulsing.
In most cases, only the sufferer can hear the noise, but sometimes a doctor can hear it when listening to the person’s neck, jaw, temple, or ear with a stethoscope.
20% of Americans suffer from tinnitus
Twenty percent of the total population in the U.S., and one-third of people over 55, have tinnitus. In about twelve million individuals, it’s severe enough to seek medical attention, and two million patients are so seriously debilitated they can’t function on a “normal,” day-to-day basis.
Some of the possible causes of tinnitus are neck, bite, or jaw disorders (called Temporomandibular joint (TMJ) because of the effect on muscles and nerves near the ear), age, earwax buildup, a tumor, osteosclerosis (a stiffening of the bones) in the middle ear, or medications such as aspirin, NSAID’s, antidepressants, anti-malarials, diuretics, beta blockers, or antibiotics.
Some medications are ototoxic, that is, they are toxic to the ear, and there are others that may produce tinnitus as a side effect without damaging the inner ear. These effects, which can depend on the dosage of the medication, can be temporary or permanent.
Medications rarely help tinnitus, although certain antidepressants and tranquilizers may help in coping with the distress it can cause. Many individuals, including children, experience tinnitus along with an ear or sinus infection, but once the infection is healed the tinnitus will usually lessen and gradually go away.
Exposure to loud noise can trigger tinnitus
Exposure to loud noises may cause tinnitus, and 90 percent of all tinnitus patients have some level of noise-induced hearing loss. Loud noises are perhaps the most damaging to the tiny hair cells in the inner ear, causing irreversible damage, and repeated exposure can have a cumulative effect on hearing.
If you’re frequently or consistently exposed to noise that makes it difficult to understand another person who is 2 to 3 feet away speaking in a normal conversational level, you are being exposed to a noise level of about 85 to 90 decibels, a level which should be avoided.
Laurel Vukovic, author of “Herbal Healing Secrets for Women,” cautions that if you have to raise your voice to be heard, the noise around you is too loud. The use of alcohol vasodilates (widens the blood vessels) and intensifies the noise damage, says Dr. Harold Pillsbury, Professor of Surgery and Otolaryngology at the University of NC School of Medicine.
Tinnitus can be a symptom of a more serious illness, so the first step is to check with a doctor. Nutritionally educated physicians can follow through with natural therapies before using drugs that have harmful side effects.
Health conditions or diet could cause ringing in the ears
There are many causes for ear noises, including…
- high blood pressure,
- high triglycerides,
- various ear diseases,
- and high “bad” blood cholesterol (which can clog the oxygen supply to the nerves of the inner ear).
Other risk factors are food allergies, diabetes, thyroid disorders and ear infections. Both caffeine and nicotine use (including passive smoke) aggravates tinnitus by constricting blood flow to the ear.
The following foods may trigger tinnitus:
- alcohol – particularly red wine and grain-based spirits,
- and quinine/tonic water.
A low salt and low fat diet are recommended to help relieve tinnitus symptoms.
Natural nutrients may help relieve tinnitus symptoms
A high number of tinnitus sufferers are deficient in B-12, and Emily A. Kane, naturopathic doctor and licensed acupuncturist, recommends a daily dose of 2,000 mcg of B-12 for one month, followed by a dose of 1,000 mcg daily, if needed.
Studies indicate that nutritional supplements can reduce the severity and incidences of tinnitus. Dr. Michael Seidman, MD, Director of the Henry Ford Health System, Department of Otolaryngology, Tinnitus Clinic, in Bloomfield, Michigan, suggests a smorgasbord of antioxidant nutrients:
- Ginkgo biloba,
- alpha lipoic acid,
- vitamin A,
- Chinese herbs,
- B vitamins
- and garlic.
Other sources list additional supplements;: vitamin E, C, zinc, and choline, to help relieve tinnitus symptoms and hearing loss.
Many European doctors and a growing number of U.S. doctors use Ginkgo biloba to treat tinnitus, and a few good trials suggest that this herb may lower the perceived loudness. The advice is to use a Ginkgo product that contains 24% flavone glycosides or “standardized extract.”
According to several health experts, the recommended dose varies from 120 to 240 mg daily of the standard Ginkgo in divided doses. Start with the lower dose, and if not effective, increase gradually to the higher dose.
Ginkgo biloba improves blood flow and nerve function, and is supposed to be quite effective for tinnitus when the cause is poor circulation, but use with caution if taking a blood thinner or if you have a blood disorder. After starting this regimen of Ginkgo, not only will your thinking be sharper within 3 to 10 days, but within 6 weeks your tinnitus should be relieved, says Dr. Kane. Once relief is obtained, lower the dose to a maintenance dose of 40 to 60 mg daily (also in divided doses during the day).
Other alternative treatments to relieve tinnitus
Other alternative treatments that may provide relief are hypnosis, chiropractic adjustments, homeopathy, acupuncture, vitamin and mineral supplements, as well as some herbal remedies.
Stress reduction practices should be incorporated regularly because general stress and fatigue will not only contribute to tinnitus but interfere with healing. Some of the ways suggested to lessen stress are: regular exercise/yoga, craniosacral manipulation, massage, acupressure, Alexander Technique (which retrains the body to move in a more relaxed and natural way), meditation, and taking part in a tinnitus self-help group.
There are several ways to reduce or learn to live with tinnitus: a hearing aid will allow you to hear more environmental sounds, which can help block out the noise; biofeedback; mask the tinnitus, which means creating a low external ‘white’ noise (such as a hum or ‘shh’ sound) – keeping a TV or radio playing in the background will serve the same purpose.
Carry around a pair of earplugs to wear if you are going to be around loud noises, or if tinnitus is worse in certain environments, a benign background sound such as low music can be introduced. Be aware of foods or beverages that may trigger or worsen tinnitus symptoms.
Because impaired blood flow to vessels in and around the ears can also initiate symptoms, follow a heart-healthy diet in order to reduce the risk for hypertension and impaired circulation.
“Tinnitus” – FAQ, bixby.org – Nov. 2003
“Tinnitus: When your ears won’t stop ringing,” Harvard Women’s Health Watch, Sept. 2002
“Sound Advice for Tinnitus,” Self Healing newsletter, Andrew Weil, MD, Feb. 2002 and “Easing Tinnitus, Etc.,” June 1997
“Turn Down the Volume on Tinnitus,” Emily A. Kane, ND, LAc, letsliveonline.com – Aug. 2002
“The Ringing and Buzzing of Tinnitus,” webmd.com – July 2002
“Treating Tinnitus Naturally,” Richard Huemer, MD, Associate Editor of the “Clinical Practice of Alternative Medicine,” and long time columnist for Let’s Live magazine – April 1998 issue
Dr. Michael Holthouser, MD, Chairman of the Noise and Hearing Conservation Committee of the American College of Occupational and Environmental Medicine
Laurel Vukovic, author of “Herbal Healing Secrets for Women, 2000;
Conscious Choice, Ronald Hoffman, MD, Hoffman Center, NY, 2002, holistic-online.com
Dr. Whitaker’s “Health and Healing” newsletter, April 2001
American Tinnitus Association
June Russell is a retired health educator, researcher and journalist seeking to educate the public about health issues and balance some of the media facts that are deceptive, inaccurate, or biased. Often politics, monetary gain, or the need for sensationalism influence what is reported or not reported. Some health information is flawed, deceptive, or inaccurate, and the media often omits some of the necessary facts so that the public does not get the "whole story."
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