Tinnitus is a subjective disorder characterized as chronic ringing, roaring, buzzing, humming, chirping, or hissing in the ears in the absence of environmental noise (ATA 2002). Symptoms of tinnitus are frequently found in elderly persons and are often associated with hearing loss related to the aging process (presbycusis). Although the cause is usually unknown, tinnitus can be a symptom of almost any ear disorder, including infection (otitis media), a blocked ear canal (ear wax) or eustachian tube, otosclerosis (overgrowth of bone in the middle ear), labyrinthitis, and Meniere's disease. Even blast injury from explosions has been known to cause symptoms of tinnitus. Additionally, adverse side effects from some drugs (e.g., aspirin and antibiotics) cause tinnitus symptoms.
According to Michael Seidman, M.D. (Tinnitus Center in Bloomfield, Michigan), there are specific nutrients that have been suggested to benefit persons with tinnitus. B-complex supplements lead this category because deficiencies in the B vitamins have been shown to result in tinnitus. The B vitamin complex stabilizes nerves and appears to have a beneficial effect on some tinnitus patients. However, only anecdotal evidence is available on this therapy. Some patients say vitamin B1 (thiamine) supplemented at 100-500 mg daily has provided them with relief from symptoms. Vitamin B3 (niacin) is the subject of numerous anecdotal reports that purport it to help reduce symptoms. Dr. Seidman usually recommends a starting dosage of 50 mg twice a day of niacin, up to a maximum of 500 mg twice a day, but he believes that if there is no improvement within 3-4 months, it is unlikely to occur.
There may also be some correlation between the decline in vitamin B12 levels and the increasing prevalence of tinnitus in the elderly. A study by Shemesh et al. (1993) showed that there was a high prevalence (47%) of vitamin B12 deficiency in patients with chronic tinnitus. This deficiency was more widespread and severe in the tinnitus group that was associated with noise exposure, suggesting a relationship between vitamin B12 deficiency and dysfunction of the auditory pathway. Supplemental cobalamin was found to provide some relief in several patients with severe tinnitus.
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