August 29, 2014
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Ear Health

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Ringing in the ears

"Is it just me or do you hear a ringing sound?!"

If you often ask this question only to get a response "It's just you," then you probably have tinnitus.

People who have tinnitus perceive to hear sounds such as ringing, buzzing, roaring, whistling, or hissing sounds when there is actually no sound present. Tinnitus itself is not a condition. Rather, it can be a symptom of a variety of underlying conditions such as hearing loss, head trauma, physical or emotional stress, circulation disorders, ear infections, or migraines.

It can also occur as a result of the medications you are taking. Although it may be frustrating - and in some cases impossible - to find the cause of your tinnitus, there are some things you can do to manage it.

  • See your doctor and an audiologist. If you think you have tinnitus, the first thing you should do is have a medical exam to determine if an underlying condition is causing it. You should also see an audiologist for a hearing test and to get an assessment of your auditory system. Your doctor may refer to an ear, nose, and throat specialist.
  • Avoid caffeine and nicotine. These may make tinnitus worse.
  • Check your medication. Talk to your pharmacist to determine if your tinnitus might be a result of a medication you are taking. Your pharmacist or doctor may suggest changing your medication.
  • Use a hearing aid. This can be helpful for people who have hearing loss, as improved hearing of other sounds may cover up or lessen the tinnitus.
  • Use a masking technique or device. A white noise machine can produce sounds like rain or water that will suppress tinnitus. There are also devices that can produce continuous white noise to lessen the perception of the tinnitus. You could also do this yourself by focusing on a different sound such as the fan or the radio. This is especially helpful when trying to fall asleep.
  • Manage your stress. Keeping stress levels under control can prevent tinnitus from getting worse. Try deep breathing, biofeedback, yoga, or regular physical activity to reduce your stress levels.
  • Remove ear wax. Impacted ear wax can cause tinnitus or may make existing tinnitus worse. Make sure you remove ear wax safely - never use a cotton swab to remove ear wax.
  • Try alternative medicine. There is not much evidence for alternative therapies but they make work for you. These include acupuncture, hypnosis, herbs, and supplements. Talk to your doctor about these options.
  • Avoid loud noises and music. Use ear protectors when loud noise can't be avoided. Exposure to loud noises can cause damage to the nerves in the ears over time, making tinnitus worse.
  • Join a support group or get counselling. Talking to other people who have similar experiences as you will make you feel more understood. You may also find new ways of coping with your tinnitus. A counsellor may give you techniques to deal with tinnitus as well as the anxiety, stress, and irritability that some people with tinnitus also experience.
  • Medication. Some medications can help with tinnitus symptoms. Talk to your doctor to see if medication may be appropriate for you.

Lisa Tourountzas


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