Expert Opinions

Expert Opinions Archive
I've been plagued with ringing in the ears for many months now. Do you have any suggestions?

E.H., Scottsdale, AZ

W. E. Davies, Ph.D., professor of pharmacology at the University of Birmingham, U.K., recently completed a study on the popular herb ginkgo biloba for persistent ringing in the ears. Doctors refer to this condition as tinnitus. The herb, which increases blood flow to the brain and other areas, is thought to help some people with persistent ringing in the ears. Unfortunately, in his large, well-controlled study, the herb did not appear to offer overall benefits over a placebo.

Dr. Davies, who has been studying tinnitus for more than 10 years, recommends counseling as an essential first step for anyone plagued with this annoying problem. "People need to be informed that tinnitus is not life threatening and that they are not hallucinating," he says. "They should also be told how the condition arises. My theory is that as people age and begin to go deaf, some of their hearing cells die off. This leaves an area of the brain that normally receives input from the sensory system empty. These idle cells start making new connections in the brain, and it's these new connections that are actually the source of the tinnitus."

Does stress make tinnitus worse? "Yes," says Dr. Davies. "Stress will always exacerbate the condition, so people must de-stress themselves. Most of all, they need to undo the distress that the tinnitus itself is causing, because that will feed back on the system and make the condition worse. It's also important to try hard not to attend to the noise. Any attention that you pay it can make it emerge from what was a silent background. Another extremely important strategy is that people with tinnitus should spend no time at all in silence. They should always have some light music or noise or some kind of hum in the background. This certainly helps those with the condition to fall asleep."

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