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Noise in Ears

Will the noise in my ears ever go away?

Question

For six weeks I have had a 'whooshing' noise in my left ear, as if I were standing by a waterfall. It's bearable during the day but when I'm in bed the noise keeps me awake. Now it has started in my right ear, too. My neck and top vertebrae are quite tender. My GP has referred me to an ear, nose and throat consultant but thinks I might have to live with it. I have a balanced diet and keep fit, going to a health club four times a week. Can you help?

Answer

The condition you have is called tinnitus, which is becoming an increasingly common problem. The artist Vincent van Gogh was so bothered by tinnitus that he cut his ear off. Having worked with patients affected by it, I know that those who get most upset by the noise are generally sensitive and often irritable by nature.

The point is, the more you focus on it, the worse it seems. Everyone is surrounded by noise these days, but if your threshold to environmental noise or noise within your head is low, you have to work towards controlling the agitation and improving your sleep by learning to calm your mind. You will find that it then becomes less intense and gradually less frequent.

Generally, there are two types of sound experienced by tinnitus patients. One is the steam-engine 'shoosh shoosh' type, which occurs at the same frequency as your heartbeat. This is genuine sound, which may be due to plaque in the arteries near the ears. The other type is continuous, often described as whistling ringing or roaring which is due to a nervous impulse generated in the nerve of the brain centre that analyses sound. This is like the phantom pain in a limb experienced by some amputees; your brain feels pain in the missing leg because of nerve impulses in the remainder of the limb. Similarly, people with migraines often 'see' nonexistent flashing light before a migraine attack.

I believe the sounds you're hearing are due to impaired functions of the auditory (hearing) nerve, which originates in the inner ear. This 'vestibulocochlear' nerve is fed by tiny branches of the basilar artery, located at the base of the brain stem. This artery is formed by the joining of the vertebral arteries running along either side of the neck and spine. It feeds many cranial nerves (ie, those that originate in the brain) including the trigeminal nerve, which is responsible for debilitating facial pain.

My view is that the underlying cause of tinnitus is tension due to whiplash injury, stress, excessive computer use, insomnia, head or neck injuries, or a lot of dental work the neck and jaw muscles tense and become tender, which impairs blood flow through the vertebral arteries. I think you will find that if you squeeze your neck from the back, or press the jaw muscle on the side most affected, the tinnitus becomes louder. I use massage and manipulative therapy on these patients and there is a dramatic effect after the session, patients often say they have immediate relief, which supports my notion. Sometimes chronic fatigue syndrome, low blood pressure or anaemia can cause tinnitus, by reducing oxygen supply to the auditory nerve.

Here are my suggestions:

The sooner you start to tackle the problem, the better, as chronic tinnitus is more difficult to treat.

    Nutrition

  • Avoid food and drink that excite the nervous system, coffee, excess alcohol, salt or sugar; Chinese food with monosodium glutamate, ginger and chillies; excess nutritional supplements; and avoid supplements such as guarana and ginseng. Consume foods that have a calming effect cucumber, melon, infusions of mint, chamomile and rose, plain natural yoghurt and buttermilk.
  • Drink three cups of Relaxation Tea daily for two months.
  • Remedies

  • Take Ginkgo Biloba 2000, one capsule daily for two months; this is useful for improving circulation.
  • Take vitamin B complex, one capsule daily for three months, to support the nervous system, and magnesium.
  • Massage

  • Neck and shoulder massage is very important. Massage the neck and shoulders while you shower or bath, using soap or shower gel to lubricate your hands. Ask a partner or friend to massage these area for you for 15 minutes once a week ( see my Lifestyle DVD for details, Integrated Health Group) or go to a professional massage therapist. Also listen to the relaxation guidance on my Lifestyle DVD.
  • Yoga

  • Practise therapeutic Iyengar yoga (for details of local practitioners visit www.iyengaryoga.org.uk). The cobra, turtle, semi bridge, head roll and boat poses are good.
    Therapies: Acupuncture, osteopath with massage before manipulation and cranial osteopathy are very effective.
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