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Ringing in the ears: Facts about tinnitus

By Dr. Robert Mario

Do you hear a ringing, whooshing, roaring, clicking or hissing sound in one or both of your ears? Do you hear this sound often or all the time? Does the sound bother you a lot? If you answered yes to any of these questions, you may have tinnitus.

Tinnitus is a symptom associated with many forms of hearing loss. It can also be a symptom of other health problems. Roughly 25 million Americans have experienced tinnitus. Some cases are so severe that it interferes with a person’s daily activities. People with severe cases of tinnitus may find it difficult to hear, work or even sleep.

What causes tinnitus?

Hearing loss — Doctors, hearing specialists and scientists have discovered that people with different kinds of hearing loss may also have tinnitus.

Loud noise. Too much exposure to loud noise can cause noise-induced hearing loss and tinnitus.

Medicine — More than 200 medicines can cause tinnitus. If you have tinnitus and you take medicine, ask your doctor or pharmacist whether your medicine could be involved.

Other health problems — Allergies, tumors and problems in the heart and blood vessels, jaws and neck can cause tinnitus.

What should I do if I have tinnitus?

The most important thing you can do is to go see your hearing specialist for an evaluation. Your hearing specialist can try to determine what is causing your tinnitus. He or she can check to see if it is related to blood pressure, kidney function, diet or allergies. Your hearing specialist can also determine whether your tinnitus is possibly related to any medicine you are taking.

To learn more about what is causing your tinnitus, your hearing specialist may refer you to a physician.

What can I do to help myself?

Think about things that will help you cope. Many people find listening to music very helpful. Focusing on music might help you forget about your tinnitus for a while. It can also help mask the sound. Other people like to listen to recorded nature sounds, like ocean waves, the wind or even crickets.

Avoid anything that can make your tinnitus worse. This includes smoking, alcohol and loud noise.

If it is hard for you to hear over your tinnitus, ask your friends and family to face you when they talk so you can see their faces. Seeing their expressions may help you understand them better. Ask people to speak louder, but not shout.

How will hearing experts treat my tinnitus?

Although there is no cure for tinnitus, hearing specialists, scientists and doctors have discovered several treatments that may give you some relief. Treatments can include:

•Hearing aids.

•Maskers. Maskers are small electronic devices that use sound to make tinnitus less noticeable.

•Medicine or drug therapy.

Tinnitus retraining therapy. This treatment uses a combination of counseling and maskers

•Counseling. People with tinnitus may become depressed.

•Relaxing. Learning how to relax is very helpful if the noise in your ears frustrates you.

Dr. Robert Mario, PhD, BC-HIS, is the director of Mario Hearing and Tinnitus Clinics, with locations in West Roxbury, Cambridge and Melrose. He can be reached at 781-979-0800 or visit their website, www.mariohearingclinics.com. Archives of articles from previous issues can be read at www.fiftyplusadvocate.com

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