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June 2006 Issue

Ravi Samy, MD, an otologist, encourages people to take precautions, like wearing ear plugs, when engaging in loud activities to protect their hearing.
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Summer Activities May Increase Hearing Loss

Published June 2006

People tend to spend more time outdoors in the summer, and their exposure to loud noise increases. Whether the noise is from lawnmowers or firecrackers, it's important to take precautions to protect your ears.

Tinnitus (perception of sound in the ears) affects most people at some point in their lives and is often due to hearing loss or exposure to loud noises. Other causes include stress, ear-damaging drugs, ear infections, jaw misalignment, brain or head injury and, in rare cases, a tumor on the auditory nerve.

"It's important for people to realize they can help minimize tinnitus caused by loud noises," says Ravi Samy, MD, assistant professor of otolaryngology. "The cochlear hair cells in your ears can be damaged when listening to loud music or working around loud equipment, such as lawnmowers, for prolonged periods of time, which can lead to hearing loss.

"Protecting your hearing can be as simple as turning the music down and wearing ear plugs when engaged in loud activities."

The American Tinnitus Association estimates that 50 million Americans suffer from the condition. For most it’s temporary, but for 12 million people it can disrupt their lives.

Tinnitus is a subjective noise, and people often describe it as "ringing in the ears." Dr. Samy says many patients with tinnitus are most affected when it's quiet around them, such as when they are trying to sleep.

"Tinnitus sufferers need something pleasant to distract their minds-a radio or TV during the day and 'white noise' at night, like an air conditioner or fan," he says.

Other tinnitus treatments include:

Hearing aids: A hearing test may reveal hearing loss, a potential cause of tinnitus. Dr. Samy says the brain has the ability to change itself to adapt to various situations, and tinnitus may be one way the brain adapts to hearing loss.

Medications: There are no drugs for the treatment of tinnitus, but people who suffer from depression or anxiety may also have tinnitus. Medications are available to treat these conditions and might lessen the severity of tinnitus.

Tinnitus retraining: Using an ear device called a masker, which emits a steady, low-level broadband sound, can reduce the contrast between a tinnitus sufferers' internal sound and the quiet of the outside world.

Biofeedback tests: Stress is a major contributor to tinnitus. Biofeedback tests measure heart rate and temperature as people respond to stressors or things that relax them. Dr. Samy says that over time people can learn what triggers their stress and how to relax.

Acupuncture and hypnosis: Although it's unclear how effective these activities are, Dr. Samy says they do promote relaxation—a key to helping people reduce the severity of tinnitus

"Reducing stress and increasing relaxation are probably the most important things people can do for tinnitus," says Dr. Samy. "I know that can be difficult, and it takes patience, but it's one of the best ways to control the condition."

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