Do your ears ring? Or hiss? Or roar like the ocean? Or crackle like Rice Krispies?
These are the sounds of the ear problem, tinnitus. And they’re not just background noise. You can’t hear every word that’s spoken or enjoy radio or TV programmes without straining. In some ways, tinnitus is even worse than deafness – at least the deaf can concentrate on what they’re reading and sleep without being woken up by the noises in their own head.
People with tinnitus complain of noise in one or both ears, or a different sound in each ear. In either case, the noise can become louder or softer at different times of the day. And the louder the tinnitus, the more tense and irritable you become.
Infection or injury are common causes of the problem. But it can also be a symptom of Meniere’s syndrome, a hearing disorder caused by fluid retention in the ear, which in turn can be caused by allergies. And tinnitus can be a direct result of allergy-triggered inflammation of tiny blood vessels inside the ear.
As with other ear problems, allergy should be considered as a possible cause of tinnitus if:
– your symptoms are linked to specific foods or inhalants; or
– skin or blood tests indicate you have allergies.
Sometimes the signs of ear allergy are very subtle. One man suffered ringing in the ears and increasing deafness for eight years. The only clues to allergy were post-nasal drip and a strong dislike for milk. His doctor put him on a standard elimination diet, omitting the most common food allergens such as milk, wheat, eggs and fruit. Within two weeks, the ringing and deafness decreased; in one month noise disappeared completely and the man could hear well once again. Relief continued for two months on the diet. Individual foods were then gradually added to his diet to test for allergic symptoms. Tinnitus and loss of hearing returned only when the man drank milk or ate wheat or eggs. By avoiding those foods, his tinnitus disappeared permanently.
As a preventive measure, anyone who works in a noisy area should wear ear plugs or ear protectors to avoid ear damage, which can also cause tinnitus. Tinnitus can also be aggravated by too much salt in the diet, overuse of aspirin, drinking alcohol or smoking cigarettes.