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Relief from the noise no one else hears

Bookmark and Share Rock and roll isn't the only thing that Eric Clapton and Ted Nugent have in common. These guitar legends also suffer from tinnitus.

"Tinnitus is an intermittent or constant head noise," explains Stephen Gadomski, MD, chief of otolaryngology at Virtua Voorhees. "Depending on the patient's perception, the noise can range from a low roar to a high squeal."

Nearly 36 million Americans have tinnitus. And while some will live with the head noise permanently, others will only suffer temporarily.

"Whether the tinnitus is permanent or temporary depends on the cause," says Nancy Musuras, MA, CCC-A, F-AAA, Virtua audiologist. "If the underlying cause can be corrected, then the tinnitus may go away."

For example, temporary tinnitus can be caused by ear infections, fluid or wax build-up, medications, or large amounts of aspirin.

Tinnitus can also be caused by allergies, high or low blood pressure, a tumor, diabetes, thyroid problems, head or neck injuries or dental problems. "If you hear head noise for longer than four weeks, consult your physician," says Musuras.

In some cases, tinnitus is permanent. "Permanent tinnitus is caused by damage to the hearing nerves in the inner ear," explains Dr. Gadomski. "A certain amount of nerve impairment naturally comes with age. But for a young person, exposure to loud music is the primary cause of nerve damage." Tinnitus can also be a symptom of the stiffening of the middle ear bones (otosclerosis).

While there is no cure for permanent tinnitus, it can be treated. And the treatment method and level of relief varies from patient to patient. "Depending on what's causing the tinnitus, it can be treated with a hearing aid, masker or combination of both. Maskers sit in the ear like a hearing aid and generate a constant noise, which may cancel out the ringing," explains Musuras.

Preventing tinnitus
"Just one loud concert or sudden bang or pop can cause tinnitus," warns Dr. Gadomski. "To protect your ears, avoid loud noises or wear protective ear plugs, and keep your headphone volume low. If the person next to you can hear your music, it's too loud."

Because blood-flow problems can cause tinnitus, it's important to check your blood pressure regularly. To help maintain a normal blood pressure, Dr. Gadomski advises to cut back on alcohol, caffeine, tobacco and salt; exercise daily to maintain a healthy weight; and get plenty of rest.