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Proven therapies help relieve tinnitus

Proven therapies help relieve tinnitus

The Medicine Cabinet: Ask the Harvard Experts

By Howard LeWine, M.D.

Q: I have constant ringing in my right ear. It started about one year ago out of the blue. What causes it? Can I do anything to stop it?

A: Ringing in the ears (tinnitus) is a noise you hear but no one else does. Some people describe it as a hissing, buzzing or other sound.

It’s not clear exactly where in the ear or brain it originates, or what actually causes tinnitus. Most tinnitus traces to physical damage to the sound-sensing cells in the inner ear. Anything that causes temporary or permanent hearing loss can lead to tinnitus. But it can occur even if your hearing is normal.

Tinnitus is more likely to occur in older age. Other factors associated with hearing loss include wax buildup, persistent loud noise exposure, fluid in the ear, infections and head injuries.

Tinnitus can also be related to a medication. Aspirin in high doses is the most well known cause, but other prescription drugs list tinnitus as a side effect.

There are some rarer causes of tinnitus. For example, pulsatile tinnitus, in which the sound changes in time with your heartbeat, is a special situation often related to blood vessel problems.

Certain proven remedies help make tinnitus easier to live with, but be wary of advertisements claiming to have a cure.

First, see your doctor or a hearing specialist for a comprehensive exam and hearing test. Then you can learn your options.

When hearing loss occurs with tinnitus, a properly fitted hearing aid can actually help with both. The hearing aid will mask the tinnitus by providing clear, adequate volume. The brain will tune in to the normal sounds more than the tinnitus.

Cognitive behavioral therapy could help you to see the tinnitus in a less negative way and teach you ways to distract yourself from the sounds. A program lasting eight weeks is typical.

Tinnitus retraining therapy aims to gradually “retrain the brain” to get used to the tinnitus.

Some people find it helpful to cover up or “mask” the tinnitus with recorded music or a sound-generating device worn in the ear.

Biofeedback and other stress-reduction techniques can lessen the emotional distress caused by tinnitus.

(Howard LeWine, M.D., is an internist at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston and assistant professor at Harvard Medical School. For additional consumer health information, please visit www.health.harvard.edu.)

(c) 2017 PRESIDENT AND FELLOWS OF HARVARD COLLEGE. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. DISTRIBUTED BY TRIBUNE CONTENT AGENCY, LLC.

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