Tinnitus is a constant ringing (or other noise) in the ears for which there is no known external cause. Individuals may hear noises such as ringing, buzzing, whistling, or some other persistent sound. Most persons have experienced at least a few second of tinnitus, such as after hearing a siren go by, passing a jackhammer during construction, or after hearing a loud concert. Tinnitus is more common in people over 55. While tinnitus often disappears without medical treatment for some, it may be a recurring medical issue for others.
Tinnitus may also be a symptom of more serious inner ear issues like Meniere’s disease (a fluid imbalance in the inner ear) or labyrinthitis (an inflammation in the inner ear).
Causes of Tinnitus
Tinnitus is usually caused by exposure to loud noise (music, gunshots, explosions, and other extreme sounds), which results in nerve damage to the inner ear. Poor diet can make tinnitus more probable, as can exposure to toxic chemicals in foods, medicines, and the environment. However, tinnitus can also be a symptom of a number of more serious medical issues, including the following: excess ear wax, perforated eardrum, respiratory allergies, sinus infections, high or low blood pressure, diabetes, cardiovascular disease, head or neck injuries, and brain tumors. Additionally, tinnitus is a possible side effect for a number of drugs, including aminoglycoside antibiotics, quinidine, cicplatin, and aspirin.
Types of Tinnitus
Meniere’s disease occurs when the network of fluid-filled channels in the inner ear, also called the labyrinth, fill up with an excess amount of fluid, which ruptures the surrounding membranes and damages nearby sensory cells. The reasons why fluids build up in the labyrinth are not known, but suspected causes include respiratory and middle ear infections, head injuries, and heavy alcohol use. The resultant symptoms of Meniere’s disease, other than tinnitus, are episodes of vertigo, hearing loss, and nausea. Meniere’s disease is more common in women than in men, and the patterns and severity of the symptoms vary for everyone, ranging from every few hours to every few years.
Labyrinthitis is an infection of the labyrinth that causes inflammation in the inner ear. While the infection is usually viral, it may also be a result of bacterial meningitis, influenza, measles, herpes, and hepatitis. Labyrinthitis may result in tinnitus, hearing loss, vertigo, nausea, and vomiting.
Prevention of Tinnitus
The easiest way to prevent tinnitus is to protect the ears from loud sounds. Easy ways to do this are wearing earplugs when going to concerts, operating loud machinery, or doing anything else which might expose the ears to loud noises. When listening to headphones, individuals should listen at a low volume. Protecting the rest of the head, not just the ears themselves, is important as well. Protective headgear for sports such as hockey, football, and baseball should always be worn, and ear and respiratory infections should be taken care of in a timely manner. Finally, persons should avoid smoking, exercise regularly, eat a healthy diet, and reduce their intake of alcohol, salt, and caffeine.
Symptoms of Tinnitus
For most people, tinnitus sounds like a buzzing, ringing, or whistling sound. The sound may be intermittent or a constant ringing. Often, other symptoms accompany tinnitus, such as headaches, digestive disorders, learning disorders, irritability, insomnia, and fatigue.
How Tinnitus is Diagnosed
A general practitioner will be able to examine the ears and a patient’s medical history to reach a preliminary diagnosis. If needed, an ear doctor (also called an otalyrngoloist) may examine the patient further, and an audiologist may run hearing tests.
Tinnitus Possible Treatments
Treatments for tinnitus and other associated disorders vary based on the disorder and its severity. Chronic sufferers of tinnitus may use a tinnitus masker, which plays a constant quiet noise into the ear, masking the sound that their tinnitus is making. While there are no cures for Meniere’s disease, there are treatments which help the patient deal with the symptoms of the disease. Sometimes, surgery is recommended if Meniere’s disease is the cause of a person’s tinnitus.
Removal of ear wax is a good place to start, and this may be done at home by using mineral oil, hydrogen peroxide, or a store-bought wax remover. Physical therapy can help, as tinnitus is often caused when the body is in uncomfortable positions. If physical therapy makes these positions more comfortable, tinnitus may be relieved. Exposure to copy machines, household cleaners, and common toxins around the house should be avoided when possible.
Often tinnitus can be caused or aggravated by bad nutritional habits. Thus, a healthy, balanced diet and general lifestyle can go a long way in preventing tinnitus. Generally, persons should try to avoid fat, cholesterol, and refined sugar if suffering from tinnitus. Instead, they should replace these with vegetable proteins, complex carbohydrates, and freshly squeezed juice (which has vitamins, minerals, and important enzymes). Alcohol, cigarettes, caffeine, acidic foods, and tap water should all be avoided if possible.
Gingko (Gingko Biloba) extract has been shown to help treat tinnitus by hundreds of European studies. Persons wishing to try Gingko should buy a 50:1 extract. Sesame (Sesamum Indicum) is recommended by Chinese herbalists for treatment of tinnitus. Sesame seeds are easily integrated into the diet, especially through tahini, a peanut butter like spread made from sesame seeds. Lesser periwinkle (Vinca minor) is an evergreen herb which contains the chemical vincamine, which may help abate symptoms of tinnitus and Meniere’s disease. A doctor should be consulted before using lesser periwinkle. Other possible herbal remedies include black cohosh (cimicifuga racemosa) and Goldenseal (Hydrastis Canadensis).
Foods high in zinc, such as spinach (Spinacia oleracea), parsley, collards, Brussels sprouts, cucumbers, string beans, endive, black-eyed beans, prunes, and asparagus, may help to treat tinnitus. Other important vitamins and minerals for persons with tinnitus to ingest are Vitamin A, Vitamin D, Vitamin E, ionized calcium, magnesium, and potassium. A doctor should be consulted before taking a regimen of vitamins and minerals.
Certain herbs that have aspirin-like qualities, such as willow bark, meadowsweet, and wintergreen, should be avoided, as aspirin may cause tinnitus symptoms. Other herbs that may have unhelpful effects include cinchona, black haw, and uva ursi.
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