I am 60 years of age and live healthfully, but I’m troubled by ringing in my ears. A friend has recommended ginkgo biloba. How should I proceed?
To begin, we advise you to seek professional medical help with this problem. What you describe fits the condition known as tinnitus. Tinnitus is the sensation of sound that feels as if it is coming from the inside rather than from the usual sounds of our surroundings. It seems as if it is right inside one’s head (which, in fact, it is). It may be perceived equally in both ears, or more in one ear than the other. The sound has been described in a number of ways, such as like a ringing, a humming, a hissing, or even a roaring. Some say the sound resembles the noise cicadas make.
Tinnitus is a common condition that occurs in up to 25 percent of persons over the age of 18. It happens more frequently as we age and peaks as we reach our 60s. During the past 10 years tinnitus is occurring more in younger people, probably because of the growing exposure to noise and loud music (and the widespread use of earbuds for listening to these sounds over long periods).
Some degree of hearing loss is present in a high percentage of people who have tinnitus. Fortunately, only a small percentage of people would classify their tinnitus as so disturbing that it interferes with their ability to function. It also tends to improve and become less bothersome over time in approximately half of those who have it.
Tinnitus may be associated with infection of the middle ear, or even wax in the ear canal that may be close to the eardrum. Once these conditions have been treated (the infection resolved or the wax removed), both the hearing and tinnitus usually improve.
A professional assessment is needed. Clinical history and examination will guide the process and identify readily treatable causes. Imaging may be done if the tinnitus or decreased hearing is on one side more than the other, or if there are signs of nervous system damage. Audiology (hearing testing) should be performed if the tinnitus is present on one side only, has been present for six months or more, or if you experience difficulty with your hearing.
Numerous studies on specific medications (e.g., antidepressants) and supplements (e.g., ginkgo biloba) have not been shown to be useful in the treatment of tinnitus.
If there is hearing loss, hearing aids have been found to help both the hearing and to reduce tinnitus. If tinnitus is associated with stress and mood disorders, a well-informed specialist may advise referral for assistance in coping with the challenges of tinnitus.
Whatever health problems we face, our prayer is that even in illness we will hear God’s voice saying, “This is the way, walk in it” (Isa. 30:21).
Peter N. Landless, a board-certified nuclear cardiologist, is director of Adventist Health Ministries at the General Conference. Zeno L. Charles-Marcel, a board-certified internist, is an associate director of Adventist Health Ministries at the General Conference.