DEAR DR. DONOHUE: I have tinnitus. It sounds like roaring in my head. I take gabapentin for it. Do you know of anything else for it? -- E.A.
ANSWER: You have an affliction that would drive me crazy -- tinnitus, a constant noise in one or both ears or the head that people describe in a variety of ways as ringing, whistling, buzzing, hissing or roaring. An estimate of the number of Americans suffering from tinnitus (TIN-uh-tiss or tuh-NITE-iss) is somewhere between 16 million and 60 million.
Tinnitus mostly happens to older people whose hearing is diminishing. Why tinnitus arises in them is explained by the fact that head noises are generated constantly. Outside noise entering the ears obliterates these internal noises. When deafness approaches, the volume of external noises greatly lessens, and the internal noises then become prominent and nerve-racking. If your hearing is growing dimmer, a hearing aid will help you hear more clearly and will dampen your tinnitus.
Other causes of tinnitus are as banal as a wax impaction in the eardrum, something easily taken care of by the family doctor. Drugs like aspirin and the nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory medicines (Aleve, Advil, Motrin) can bring on tinnitus if they are constantly used.
If a cause cannot be determined, then other approaches have to be taken. A bedside radio tuned to a station that plays the kind of music you like can reduce the volume of tinnitus.
Nighttime is the worst time for it.
Tinnitus maskers, devices worn like a hearing aid, emit a constant sound that dulls tinnitus.
Do get in touch with the American Tinnitus Association. It will provide you with a wealth of information on tinnitus and its treatments. You can reach the association online at www.ata.org. If you don't have a computer, surely a friend, neighbor or relative does and can hook you up with the association.
DEAR DR. DONOHUE: Please discuss liver cysts. Two CT scans, taken years apart, revealed two liver cysts. I was told not to be concerned. Should I be? -- B.S.
ANSWER: Since scans have become so routinely a part of medical practice, liver cysts are seen quite frequently. Most liver cysts neither cause pain nor upset liver function. No one is sure why they form. Unless they are large or are causing symptoms, they can be left alone.
Trouble-making liver cysts do exist. Some parasite infections cause them. Those cysts almost always produce symptoms that call for treatment.
DEAR DR. DONOHUE: I recently read several articles about the use of food-grade hydrogen peroxide. I am interested in using it for prostate and urinary tract problems. Are there real benefits from it? -- J.C.
ANSWER: Concentrations of 1.5 percent hydrogen peroxide are used by some as a mouthwash and at 1.5 percent to 3 percent as a wound cleaner. The same doses are used to remove wax from the ear canal.
I can't find any confirmation of the benefit of using food-grade hydrogen peroxide for prostate or urinary tract problems. I would not encourage you to use it. Food grade is a very high concentration.
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.