DEAR DR. DONOHUE: Ringing in the ears has me almost losing my mind. I have seen two doctors, but they had no answers for me. I have used lipoflavanoids without any relief. I live on a fixed income, so I don’t want to waste money. Some nights are really bad. Do you have any help for me? — J.S.
ANSWER:
Ear ringing has a name — tinnitus (TIN—uh—tiss or tuh—NIGHT—is, the preference is yours). Some say they hear a constant hissing, roaring or buzzing noise. Whatever the sound, it is distracting, disruptive and annoying. If you haven’t seen an ear, nose and throat doctor, you should. Such doctors are the best qualified to help those with tinnitus.
Its causes are many. Medicines, like high aspirin doses, can bring it on. Some water pills do it. Meniere’s disease — a triad of tinnitus, fluctuating hearing loss and episodes of dizziness — is another possibility. Wax buildup in the ear canal can lead to it. Caffeine, nicotine and salt intensify the noise. A tumor of the ear nerve is another cause. For the greatest number of people, the cause is hearing loss that occurs with aging. If a person with normal hearing sits in a soundproof room for any length of time, that person starts hearing ear noises. That’s because there’s no background sound entering the person’s ear and brain. Background noise suppresses the tinnitus we all have. For this reason, a hearing aid is a most valuable and often effective treatment for tinnitus that comes from hearing impairment.
Nighttime quiet makes tinnitus worse. Turning a bedside radio to soothing music can sometimes dampen the tinnitus. During the day, wearing earphones that transmit music is another way to cope. Devices called tinnitus maskers are worn like hearing aids, and they emit sound that muffles tinnitus. Programs that train the brain to ignore tinnitus can be successful, but they are lengthy and somewhat costly.
You and all tinnitus sufferers should contact the American Tinnitus Association at 800—634—8978 or at www.ata.org for information and for the news of any new treatments.
DEAR DR. DONOHUE: I am a male, 82 years of age and in relatively good health. For about 12 years, my left elbow has had a very large protrusion that feels like it has liquid in it. It is not painful, but it is unsightly. Many doctors have advised me to leave it alone. They have never explained what it is. One doctor suggested surgery, but I will not consider that. What is this? — C.B.
ANSWER:
Have you ever seen housemaid’s knee, a swelling just below the kneecap that people who do lots of work on their knees are apt to get? Your swelling is the elbow’s equivalent of housemaid’s knee. It’s a bursa that’s filled with fluid. (Bursas are small discs distributed through the body to allow tendons to glide over bones without friction.) The official name is olecranon (elbow) bursitis. It can come from overuse, from injury or just from out of the blue. The fluid is easy to remove with a syringe and needle. If the swelling isn’t causing pain or interfering with motion, benign neglect is an acceptable treatment.
DEAR DR. DONOHUE: I am 81. When I was in my early 50s, I noticed that my feet began to feel weird. Over the years they tingled, then went numb. The feeling has progressed up my legs. My feet and ankles are painful to touch. I find it difficult to walk. My 55—year—old daughter has the same complaint. Doctors have told me it is just old age. Do you have any idea? — E.H.
ANSWER:
It’s not “just old age.” Fifty—five hardly qualifies as old age. I believe you have a progressive neuropathy, nerve damage. The fact that your daughter has the same symptoms suggests that the neuropathy might be an inherited neuropathy. There are such things.
Both you and your daughter ought to investigate this possibility by seeing a neurologist. Neurologists are nervy doctors.
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 or request an order form of available health newsletters at P.O. Box 536475, Orlando, FL 32853—6475. Readers may also order health newsletters from www.rbmamall.com.


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