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Hearing bells or not?

By: Darleth Romana-Bantiles, MDHearing bells or not?

People say that you hear bells when you're in love, specifically wedding bells! But did you know that there are people who actually hear something even without an external sound source? The condition is called tinnitus; and surprisingly, being in love may not be a cause but a solution to it.

Tinnitus, commonly described as ringing, may also be heard as a buzzing, humming, whistling or sizzling sound in one's ears. It may even be described as escaping air, running water, the sound inside a seashell or musical notes. The condition may be due to aging, ear infections, earwax buildup, or even some medications (e.g., antibiotics, furosemide, aspirin, some anti-malaria or cancer drugs). Tinnitus may occur with hearing loss and dizziness, also known as Meniere’s disease. Sometimes, it is may be a sign of other conditions like high blood pressure, allergy, anemia, or a temporomandibular joint issue. Head and neck injuries or tumors may also cause one-sided tinnitus.

Exploratory studies funded by the Tinnitus Research Initiative revealed that oxytocin, which is also known as the love hormone that promotes social bonding, may affect nerve pathways that cause the disturbing and annoying noises in the ears. By playing a complex role in thinking and behavior, oxytocin may control tinnitus via regulation of negative emotional associations and appearance of disturbing reactions. An intranasal puff of oxytocin, both as a single dose and daily doses for 10 weeks, decreased tinnitus perception and disturbance in the study participants.

Some lifestyle habits may also affect tinnitus and may need to be modified. The following are some helpful tips for persons with ringing in their ears:

  • Excessive coffee and alcoholic beverage drinking, and smoking should be curbed.
  • Avoid stress and practice relaxation techniques.
  • Sleep with the head in an elevated position.
  • Protect the ears from loud places and sounds.
  • Take care of one’s cardiovascular health.
  • Note medications or exposures (like swimming) that increase one’s risk for the condition.

Consulting with a medical practitioner may be necessary if the tinnitus lasts for more than a week, especially if it is affecting one's quality of daily living. A hearing aid or masking device could be used to make the patient more comfortable or at ease to perform regular activities.  Counseling and other psychotherapies may also help in the practice of coping strategies to improve one’s quality of life despite the chronic ringing.

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