A: First, you should have your ears checked. You need to be sure you don’t have an ear infection or other visible problem in the ear. If not, you may have tinnitus, which is not a disease, but the symptom of ringing in the ears. The cause is not always known, and it’s rarely a serious problem. However, tinnitus can be the only symptom of an underlying condition such as hypertension and should be evaluated. It can certainly be irritating.
Many cases of tinnitus follow eardrum damage, which can occur with long-term exposure to loud noises. Except in severe cases, 240 mg daily of Gingko biloba (standardized to contain 24 percent flavone glycosides and 6 percent terpene lactones) may help by bringing extra blood flow to the eighth cranial nerve, which controls turning mechanical sound waves into audible nerve impulses. Tinnitus caused by a perforated eardrum usually heals over time. Tinnitus can also be caused by structural problems, such as TMJ or otosclerosis, in which the tiny ear bones behind your eardrum become fused. This can sometimes be surgically repaired.
Many drugs and other unnatural chemicals can cause tinnitus. The primary culprits include aspartame, aspirin, steroids, antidepressants, antianxiety medications, antihistamines, antiseizure drugs, cephalosporin antibiotics, and painkillers. If the drug use corresponds with the onset of your tinnitus, discuss this with your doctor and find a way to avoid the drug.
Diet may also be to blame for tinnitus. Some studies implicate high-salt and high-sugar diets. Both caffeine and nicotine may also play a role.
Although oral B12 for tinnitus has not been studied, intramuscular injections of the vitamin have been shown to have good effect for some. Zinc supplements have also been used to treat folks with both tinnitus and hearing loss. About 25 percent of one study population experienced improvement from taking about 100 mg of zinc daily for 3 to 6 months. Do not take zinc for this long without taking 2–3 mg of copper per day. Some studies have shown that fairly high doses of vitamin A for several months can help resolve tinnitus. Try taking 50,000 IUs of vitamin A daily for two to three months. (Avoid high doses of vitamin A if you are pregnant or nursing.)
Many cases of tinnitus resolve spontaneously. If yours does not, and you still require treatment, you may benefit from masking; this involves the use of a low-level white noise generator that blocks out the sound created by the tinnitus. Meanwhile, avoid loud noises, which will make the problem worse.
Be careful wearing earphones, especially the kind that go into your ear canal. Acupuncture can also help alleviate tinnitus in some cases.
DID YOU KNOW? You can e-mail health questions to Emily Kane (aka Dr. Em) at firstname.lastname@example.org. Put “Ask the Naturopath” in the subject line.