January 3, 2011

Diagnose and Treat Tinnitus – the ringing in your ears

Everybody experiences occasional, ephemeral ringing in his or her ears, usually the result of exceptionally loud sounds in the environment, but sometimes the result of relentless “white noise.”  The ringing, roaring, hissing, tinkling, jingling, or buzzing usually passes within fifteen minutes of the stimulus, and it does no permanent damage. Brief episodes of tinnitus do not require medical attention, but persistent ringing in the ears accompanied by other symptoms—especially dizziness or localized ringing in only one ear—demand immediate treatment, because it may be a symptom of a much more serious condition.  If tinnitus occurs with migraine headache, seek professional treatment right away.  If your primary tinnitus complaint is extreme annoyance, seek relief and comfort from a variety of proven home remedies.  If your tinnitus lasts for a week or more, definitely go to the doctor’s office or the emergency room.

Two kinds of tinnitus

Persistent ringing in your ears, known in medical jargon as “tinnitus,” develops most commonly in men over forty, the natural consequence of aging, sometimes exacerbated by “acoustic trauma”–long-term exposure to loud noises as in manufacturing, construction, and aircraft maintenance.  “Pulsatile tinnitus” originates in muscle movements near the ear, changes in blood flow through the face or neck, or changes in the ear canal.  “Nonpulsatile tinnitus” comes from problems in the nerves associated with auditory function; and, unlike acoustic trauma, it may affect just one ear.  Many patients describe “nonpulsatile tinnitus” as hearing and feeling as though it originates inside their heads.

Common causes of tinnitus

You easily can diagnose and deal with your tinnitus, progressing from simplest to most exigent causes.  A rapid change of elevation, altitude, or pressure almost inevitably will make your ears ring or roar, but the problem ought to pass within a couple of minutes.  If it does not go away, call your doctor immediately.  In other situations, start with the most obvious and most easily remedied cause—a build-up of excess ear-wax.  Complete, safe and effective ear cleaning kits are available over the counter at your pharmacy.  Be aware that some medicines trigger tinnitus, especially if you have not followed the guidelines and instructions on the labels.  Antibiotics and most NSAID pain relievers can cause persistent ringing in the ears, especially if you take them in large doses.  Alcohol and caffeinated beverages also can cause intense ringing in your ears, and many energy drinks are notorious for triggering fierce ringing or roaring in users’ ears.

Naturally, ear infections affect your hearing, so that persistent ringing after you have tried the simplest remedies indicates you should visit your primary care physician for an exam.  Ear problems may also result from oral infections or may develop as a consequence of grinding your teeth, also known as TMI.  If you push a workout a little too hard, especially if you ride over the virtual Alps on your exercise bicycle, you may experience extreme roaring or “whooshing” in your ears because of increased blood flow in your neck and shoulders.  Just as naturally, you may experience hearing problems as a result of head trauma or whiplash.  Make sure you include your tinnitus among your symptoms when you describe a head injury to a doctor.

In the most serious cases, tinnitus will number among but will not lead the list of symptoms for cardiovascular disease—carotid atherosclerosis and high blood pressure; or it will be a sign of thyroid disease, anemia, malnutrition, or neurologic problems.

To minimize the risk of tinnitus

Limit your exposure to loud noises or protect your ears against their effects.  Wear earplugs, or invest in sophisticated noise-blocking headphones.  Ironically, you may want to avoid extremely quiet places, because the silence intensifies the aggravation from the ringing in your ears.  You may use your high-tech headphones to play soft music or create soothing ambient noise; alternatively, you may want to run a humidifier or a fan to mitigate the distraction and discomfort from tinnitus.  Many doctors suggest meditation or yoga, because the exercises dilate your blood vessels, reducing your stress and fatigue; many homeopaths also recommend the herbal supplement ginko biloba, which seems to promote both relaxation and better circulation.


To manage tinntus

Doctors stress that, like most common health complaints associated with aging, tinnitus will diminish and eventually disappear when you cultivate healthy habits.  Physicians recommend you cut back on your consumption of alcohol, coffee, and soft drinks.  Most doctors now recommend you completely eliminate sugared soft drinks from your diet, and many suggest substituting anti-oxidant rich green tea.  Similarly, because nicotine constricts your blood vessels, cigarette smoking can contribute substantially to circulation-related tinnitus.  The solution, of course, is to quit.  Add this reason to your list of at least a million good motives for giving up all kinds of tobacco products.  Meanwhile, carefully monitor your use of NSAID pain relievers—not just aspirin, but also naproxen sodium, acetaminophen, and ibuprofen, all of which affect your circulation.  And while you are seizing the initiative to get healthy, begin a regular daily exercise program, simply exercising some caution about bike riding and other activities that require you to keep your neck in the hyper-extended position.

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