DEAR DR. DONOHUE: My son-in-law has tinnitus, a ringing in the ear. He has it often, and his doctor seems to think nothing can be done for it except some medication. I’m not sure if my son-in-law takes it. Do you know of anything that can be done to alleviate it? – R.C.

ANSWER: Not a day goes by that I don’t get a request to discuss tinnitus. It’s ear noise described as ringing, hissing, buzzing, roaring or pulsating in sync with the heartbeat.

If you put a normal person in a soundproof room, that person develops tinnitus in a short time. The noises of the outside world, constantly bombarding the ears of a normal hearing person, suppress the inner noises of tinnitus. The point is that one big cause of tinnitus is hearing loss. The outside noises aren’t heard, so the affected person hears tinnitus noises. If hearing loss is the cause, hearing aids can improve hearing and decrease tinnitus.

Other tinnitus causes include a buildup of ear wax, something easily resolved. A tumor of the hearing nerve is another possible cause. Caffeine and nicotine make tinnitus worse. Some thyroid conditions can be responsible for it. Meniere’s disease provokes episodes of tinnitus. Medicines can produce it – drugs like aspirin, anti-inflammatory medicines and the water pill furosemide.

When no correctable cause can be found, there are still treatments. A tinnitus masker, a device like a hearing aid, emits a sound similar in pitch to the tinnitus sound, and that often blocks tinnitus. Some hearing centers use a technique called retraining by which people learn to put the lid on the tinnitus noise. The audiology department of the Cleveland Clinic uses a procedure called neuromonics in selected patients. A special device delivers music and a sound customized specifically for each patient so the patient can accustom the brain to block out tinnitus.

Have your son-in-law contact the American Tinnitus Association at 800-634-8978. Canadians have to dial 503-248-9985. Its Web site is The association keeps its members up to date on the latest developments in this field.

Dr. Donohue regrets that he is unable to answer individual letters, but he will incorporate them in his column whenever possible. Readers may write him at P.O. Box 536475, Orlando, FL 32853-6475.

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DEAR DR. DONOHUE: I am a 32-year-old woman. I hate milk, but I do use other dairy products, like cheese and ice cream. Am I getting enough calcium? Should I take calcium tablets? – S.P.

ANSWER: An adequate intake of calcium for someone your age is 1,000 mg. One ounce of cheddar cheese has 304 mg and a cup of ice cream, 176. Dairy products are the richest source of calcium, but you can find it in other places too. Some cereals are fortified with it as are some juices, like orange juice.

You have to add up all your daily calcium foods to see if you’re getting the recommended amount. You might have to go to the library to find a book that lists the calcium content of foods. “Bowes & Church’s Food Values of Portions Commonly Used” is such a book. Jean A.T. Pennington is the editor and Lippincott is the publisher.

DEAR DR. DONOHUE: I drink a lot of milk and get calcium in other foods, but my nails aren’t hard. What’s the reason they bend? – A.G.

ANSWER: I don’t have a clear picture of what you mean by “bend.” A huge outward bend of the middle part of the nail is a clubbed nail, and that is seen in lung and liver problems. A depression of the middle part of the nail is a spoon nail, and it can be an anemia sign.

Most nail problems are splitting, fissuring or flaking of the nail tip. It’s a sign that the nails have dried out. At night, you can keep moisture in the nail by applying a thin coat of Vaseline on them and wearing gloves so you don’t spread the stuff on yourself and your bedding. During the day, after washing your hands, apply Vaseline or some other moisturizer to your nails.

Contrary to what you have heard, neither calcium nor gelatin hardens nails.

How about writing back with a more graphic description of your nails?

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