Can You Hear Me Now? Help for Tinnitus

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May 6, 2015


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Is the ringing in your ears keeping you from falling asleep at night? Or maybe you’ve noticed that not hearing well is accompanied by a subtle hissing or beeping sound in your ear?

If the ringing or sensations are affecting your lifestyle, it may be tinnitus – an auditory condition that affects up to half of the general population, or 2.5 billion people worldwide, according to the American Speech-Language Hearing Association.

Pronounced “tin-a-tus,” the good news is the often annoying condition is usually benign, says Lawrence Grobman, M.D., an ear, nose and throat (ENT) specialist affiliated with the medical staff at Baptist Hospital of Miami and Baptist Medical Arts and Surgery Center.

“Most people describe the nagging sound in their ear as a ringing, hissing or beeping that’s more noticeable when it’s quiet and there’s no conversation or other noise to distract them from hearing it,” Dr. Grobman said. “The noise can be a minor annoyance or very loud, which can overwhelm the patient and his or her ability to deal with it.”

Dr. Grobman explains that the degree to which people are affected by tinnitus depends on how annoying and disruptive the noises are. The two most common aggravators are sleep deprivation and too much caffeine, he says.

“The big unknown about tinnitus is why some people get it and others – who have the same level of hearing loss – don’t,” Dr. Grobman explains.  “The most notable factor in tinnitus is some degree of sensorineural (due to problems of the inner ear or nerve pathways) hearing loss.  Since it’s difficult to gauge a person’s level of discomfort by a hearing test alone, doctors need to find the cause of the tinnitus. Exposure to loud noises, an underlying medical condition and stress- and anxiety-induced causes are some of the most common causes.”

Dr. Grobman adds, “Most patients are comforted and reassured when we explain tinnitus is mostly a benign ear problem that they can learn to manage on their own without further treatment.”

Tinnitus Treatment

The simplest advice he and fellow ENTs offer to tinnitus patients is to use a masking noise to drown out the ringing in the ears. Masking noise can be either narrow-band sounds like radio, TV or a ceiling fan, or low frequency sounds emitted from a white noise sound machine and special pillows now available with a noise maker inside to distract the ear from inner ringing.

Other ways to manage tinnitus include checking side effects of certain over-the-counter medications, such as aspirin, reducing exposure to loud noises that can damage hearing, and sometimes nutrition therapy to address vitamin deficiencies that can affect hearing.  Dr. Grobman points out it’s important when evaluating a patient for tinnitus to pay attention to the character of the noise – whether it’s constant or intermittent and when it’s more noticeable – when things are quiet or present all the time.  He notes tinnitus can be temporary or permanent, and its severity can often fluctuate.

“If the noise is pulsating in nature, the doctor may want to investigate other causes, such as an underlying vascular condition,” Dr. Grobman said.

Hope for Severe Tinnitus

Recent advances in the treatment of tinnitus are offering hope to people who suffer from severe tinnitus, in which the ringing in the ears is life-debilitating. These cases account for less than 10 percent of patients who seek help for the condition, says Dr. Grobman.

“The hot topic in the ENT field right now is how effective cochlear implants are in the management of tinnitus,” he said. “What’s encouraging is the research and case studies are showing us the  implants can help, giving these patients hope.”

Tinnitus Support Group
Tinnitus sufferers may find help at the Miami Tinnitus Support Group, May 20, 6:30-8 p.m., at Baptist Health Resource Center in Doral, 9915 NW 41 St., Suite 210.  Baptist Health registered dietitian Lucette Talamas is the featured speaker at the group’s first meeting. She will discuss how diet affects tinnitus and provide nutritional therapy tips that can help with tinnitus management. To register to attend the meeting, email TinnitusGroup@att.net. For more information, visit facebook.com/TinnitusSupportMiami

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