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Health Team

Ringing ears? Check medications, avoid silence to stifle the noise

Posted July 11

Ringing ears is a condition affects about 15 percent of the general population, which accounts for more than 50 million people.

The ailment is a medical problem called tinnitus. If the ringing is insufferable, there are ways to treat and prevent the condition altogether.

Twenty million people have a bothersome, chronic problem with tinnitus, and another 2 million have extreme cases that can be debilitating. It can disrupt sleep and make it difficult to concentrate.

For many people, though, there is hope for relief.

High frequency hearing loss is a common cause of tinnitus. There can be inner-ear cell damage, particularly the tiny, delicate hairs inside the snail-shaped bone of the inner ear called the cochlea.

If those hairs are damaged, they can leak random electrical impulses, which the brain interprets as ringing.

Loud noises, such as gunfire, chain saws and loud rock concerts, can contribute to the problem.

Effects from short-term exposure to loud noises typically go away, but long term exposure can cause permanent damage.

Sometimes, earwax buildup can block the ear canal and irritate the ear drum, which can also lead to ringing in the ear.

Another possible cause, though, could be with the jawbone joint in front of your ears—a problem called TMJ disorder.

Other possible causes of tinnitus include an inner ear disorder called Meniere's disease that is caused by abnormal ear fluid pressure.

It could also be an acoustic neuroma, which is a benign tumor on a cranial nerve that controls hearing and balance. This typically affects one ear.

Meniere's disease can be treated with medications, while more serious problems like the acoustic neuroma may require surgery.

Some medications can cause tinnitus, such as high dose aspirin, quinine medications used for malaria, some diuretics and some antibiotics.

Someone with constant, long-term symptoms should be evaluated by an ear, nose and throat specialist who can perform a thorough medical history, physical exam and a hearing test.

Fortunately, many ringing-ear episodes are short-lived and will disappear on their own. If certain medications are causing the problem, and there is a long list, then they can simply be eliminated.

People whose ears are ringing might want to avoid silent environments where the ringing is more noticeable. Background noise while you sleep—a TV, radio or fan—are good distractions.

A tinnitus retraining program is an excellent idea, too. One technique is to listen to music with the high frequency ringing sound embedded in it, which trains the brain not to focus on it.

Duke University has a good tinnitus clinic developed solely to this problem.

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