I am a forty-nine-year-old male with tinnitus. This began in 1992 and for many years manifested itself as a mild ringing in both ears, a situation that I learned to live with. About a year ago, I noticed that my ears would be blocked in the mornings. Recently, I began taking ginkgo tincture. This seemed to mitigate the ringing and blocking a little but not enough to feel that I had solved my problem.
—T. P., Manchester, Washington
Keville responds: It’s a good sign that you noticed some difference when using ginkgo (Ginkgo biloba), because that indicates you’re on the right track. It can take three months for its effects to be noticeable, but that doesn’t mean you won’t see even more improvement with continued use. Although ginkgo isn’t generally recommended to clear blocked ears, reducing ringing in the ears is one of its specialties. Try increasing your dose to at least 200 mg of ginkgo tincture twice a day. If you experience mild indigestion or headache, simply lower the amount.
A common cause of blocked ears is food allergies. If allergies are a possibility, you’ll need to do some investigative work to discover the culprit. Countering food allergies involves not only avoiding those foods but also taking herbs to improve the immune system, digestion, and assimilation. Bitter herbs such as gentian (Gentiana lutea) stimulate digestive juices to help break down proteins and other components in food that are likely to cause allergies. You can get digestive tinctures made with bitter herbs in the health-food store. There are a number of possible scenarios with your condition. For example, you may also have a low-grade infection or another condition causing inflammation that’s creating the sensation of blockage. If you can get to the root of the problem through a good diagnosis, it will be easier to choose the best natural methods to treat it.
Rountree responds: Persistent ringing, or tinnitus, indicates damage to the nerves of the inner ear. The sensation of blocked ears is a different problem. It occurs when the eustachian tubes become swollen or clogged with mucus and prevent the equalization of pressure between the middle ear and the outer environment. This is often caused by allergies. Because the nerves of your inner ear are probably damaged, they may be sensitive to the high or low pressure that results when these tubes are clogged, and respond by ringing even louder. The first thing you need to do is to keep the eustachian tubes open. The best way to do this is to flush the sinuses regularly with a solution of salt water, using a Neti pot or a bulb syringe. Combine 1/4 teaspoon of salt with 1/8 teaspoon of baking soda in 4 oz. of warm water.
If the tinnitus is from blood vessel disease in the inner ear, ginkgo can directly address the problem by increasing arterial blood flow. Published studies show that a very large dose of ginkgo is necessary to achieve this effect. The extract used in the studies was concentrated to 50:1 and standardized to contain 24 percent flavone glycosides and 6 percent terpenoids. This high-potency formula was then administered in a dose of 180 to 240 mg daily, which had to be taken for up to three months before the full effect was achieved.
Kathi Keville is director of the American Herb Association (www.jps.net/ahaherb) and the author of eleven herb and aromatherapy books including Herbs for Health and Healing (Rodale, 1996). She teaches seminars throughout the United States.
Robert Rountree, M.D., is a physician in private practice in Boulder, Colorado, where he practices integrative medicine. He is coauthor of Smart Medicine for a Healthier Child (Avery, 1994) and Immunotics (Putnam, 2000) and is an Herb Research Foundation advisory board member.
The information offered in “Q & A” is not intended to be a substitute for advice from your health-care provider.