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“There were bells on the hill

But, I never heard them ringing

No, I never heard them at all

Till there was you” - Meredith Wilson (Music Man)

And, now…it never stops. A gentle ringing in the ears can conjure up such delightful thoughts. Yet, when it becomes incessant, it can drive one batty. It tends to be a little more tolerable if one knows of its origin such as exposure to loud gunfire in the service of one’s country or the oft unregistered or forgotten immersions into rock-n-roll.

However, all too often it appears mysteriously, first being noticed in the quiet of night. Then the mind tunes into it and can’t seem to escape it with any more success than one has with a clever little ditty that plays over and over in the head.

Tinnitus is as much of a mystery as to how it starts and permeates one’s existence as it is to resolve. It is most commonly considered to be caused be trauma of some sort, though there are more than 260 pharmaceutical drugs known to cause this irritation. It effects almost 20 percent of the population.

There are tiny, delicate hairs in the inner ear that vibrate with sound and transmit that motion to the brain via nerves. These hairs can get bent or broken from trauma and consequently transmit random sounds, which is what tinnitus is.

Common everyday causes can include consistent exposure to loud noises (for example, as experienced with ear buds for musical devices), stiffening of the bones that transmit sound through the middle ear, other age related issues and, sometimes, just simple wax buildup.

Less common causes of tinnitus can include a viral infection such as Meniere’s disease, TMJ disorders, head or neck injuries, muscle spasms, eustachian tube dysfunctions and tumors like acoustic neuromas.

It is useful to identify the source of the unwanted sound in order to effectively address it. Tools at hand to help with this phenomenon include covering up the sound with other sounds (white noise), avoiding known irritants such as loud noises, caffeine, nicotine and other drugs, stress management, reduction of alcohol consumption that dilates the blood vessels or simply removal of impacted wax or fine tuning one’s hearing aid.

Drugs that have shown some benefit include some anti-depressants and anti-anxiety meds and other nerve retardants. Alternative methods that have been effective include acupuncture, hypnosis, the herb Ginkgo biloba, melatonin and B vitamins and zinc.

Don’t underestimate the value of background noise to help at night. Sleep deprivation can be a serious intrusion on one’s health.

Dr. Miles practices Naturopathic Medicine alongside other holistic practitioners at the Catalina Clinic of Integrative Medicine in Catalina, Arizona (catalinaclinic.com).