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Lidocaine helps relieve ringing in the ears

May 19, 2000 NEW YORK (Reuters Health)

Severe tinnitus--or "ringing in the ear"--is a common but difficult-to-treat problem. Study results suggest that injections of the local anesthetic lidocaine help the problem in most patients. In their report, presented at the recent American Otological Society meeting in Orlando, Florida, Drs. John J. Shea and Xianxi Ge of the Shea Ear Clinic in Memphis, Tennessee, said that injections of lidocaine both into the ear and intravenously, repeated on three consecutive days, resulted in partial or complete relief of tinnitus in 70% of patients.

The lidocaine treatment "has increased effectiveness...almost all patients get immediate relief," Shea told Reuters Health in a telephone interview. One month following treatment, 70% of the patients report complete or partial relief of tinnitus, Shea noted. The cause of tinnitus is unknown, but it is thought to be due to disorders affecting tiny "hair" cells in the inner ear, or affecting the nerve pathways between the inner ear and the brain.

Tinnitus can be associated with hearing loss. It is also associated with diseases such as Meniere's disease. The ringing can be high-pitched (sounding like a "hissing" or "whistling") or low-pitched (described as "buzzing" or "swishing" sounds). Patients with tinnitus deriving from conditions involving disturbed hair cells such as Meniere's disease, positional vertigo and aspirin intake, as well as those with hearing loss, respond well to the lidocaine treatment regimen. The researchers report no loss of hearing and no negative side effects from the treatment. "Most patients with tinnitus are also depressed," Shea said. In such cases, "treatment for both (conditions) is the only way to treat tinnitus effect.

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