D. B. Ryen
Dr Ryen, my dad gets tinnitus all the time and it makes him as ornery as a honey badger. He used to work as a heavy duty mechanic and wasn’t all that careful about using hearing protection. And he smoked like a chimney. Anyway, what exactly is tinnitus? Does anything make it better?
- Shaundra, Jacksonville, MI
Good questions, Shuandra. Tinnitus is a fancy word for ringing in the ears. It's a symptom of various conditions that tends to drive people nuts. Any problem along the auditory pathway, from the ears all the way to the brain, can cause tinnitus. Common causes are exposure to loud noises, ear infections, pressure in the ears (fluid or air), and nerve problems. The best treatment for tinnitus begins with sorting out the underlying cause, which is often difficult to do. A full neurologic assessment by your family doctor is the first place to start. Formal hearing tests (audiometry) can also help identify what's going on. There aren't many medications that treat tinnitus itself, but there are therapies available for chronic (long term) tinnitus depending on the cause. Sometimes patients experience it for years. However, if you recently started experiencing tinnitus or any other hearing issue, get it checked out sooner than later.
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