Tinnitus is often caused by inflammation of the inner ear, the center for hearing and balance. The primary symptom is ringing in the ear--the same kind of high-pitched hum or tone you'd hear after standing near a speaker at a concert. Inflammation increases lymphatic fluid in the inner ear, raising the inner-ear pressure and causing stimulation to the auditory nerve, which the brain interprets as sound.
To reduce inflammation, try herbal anti-inflammatories like curcumin, devil's claw, or bromelain in tea, tincture, or capsule form. Decreasing the fluid level with diuretics can also help ease tinnitus symptoms. One of my favorite diuretics is corn silk: Husk an ear of organic corn, roll the silk into a golf ball-sized wad and place it in 2 cups of water, then let it steep for about 10 minutes; mix the water with an equal portion of your favorite herbal tea, and drink.
--Evan Fleischmann, N.D., West Milford, N.J.-based spokesman for the American Association of Naturopathic Physicians
A variety of treatments can be used for tinnitus, but no single approach works for everyone. One of the most common is counseling--not to get rid of the sound, but to understand and cope with the tinnitus. This usually involves behavior modification therapy, which teaches relaxation techniques to help eliminate the anxiety that many people experience as a result of the condition. It's best to consult a psychologist specifically trained in tinnitus.
There are machines that can replicate the sound you're hearing to distract you from the noise in your head. These include hearing aid-like apparatuses and tabletop white-noise devices.
To prevent tinnitus, avoid exposure to loud noises. Also limit the amount of products you take containing aspirin, since aspirin may worsen symptoms. Caffeine is a stimulant and irritant to hearing cells, so you should avoid it as well.
--Cindy Go, M.D., Ph.D., spokeswoman for the American Academy of Otolaryngology/Head and Neck Surgery
Multiple studies have linked tinnitus to high levels of insulin in the blood, so try following a diabetic diet: Cut calories to maintain your ideal body weight, and get 50 percent of your calories from carbohydrates, 30 percent from fat, and 20 percent from protein at every meal.
Tinnitus is a component of Meniere's disease, a condition that includes vertigo and fluctuating hearing loss. In one study, long-term management of Meniere's included a diet avoiding all processed foods and limiting daily salt intake to about 1 gram. Enhance food flavors with lemon juice, herbs, and spices instead.
Research shows that elevated blood fats may cause inner-ear malfunction. Follow a low-fat diet by avoiding fatty meats, high-fat cheeses, fried foods, and commercially baked foods. And remember: Just because a product has no trans fat doesn't mean it's low in fat.
--Christine Gerbstadt, M.D., R.D., spokeswoman for the American Dietetic Association