by Neil Bauman, Ph.D.
A lady wrote:
I have been suffering from tinnitus for several years and it drives me crazy when I’m trying to get to sleep. I have tried every thing from counting, meditation, etc. I have been to an ear, nose and throat specialist and my local doctor and I have been told I will just have to live with it. I was on Prozac for a few years. I ended up on just half a tablet, but I found it made me feel flat and I didn’t like it so I went off it. Is there any thing I could take to stop me feeling anxious, especially when I’m trying to go to sleep? After reading some posts it seems Prozac could have made my tinnitus worse, is this correct? Does Effexor make tinnitus worse?
“Live with it,” is a doctor’s typical response to complaints about tinnitus—and in one sense it is true—you do have to live with it. However, you can learn to manage your tinnitus so it doesn’t bother you. I have had tinnitus day and night for 40+ years, but it almost never bothers me because I am habituated to it.
Doctors often prescribe drugs such as Fluoxetine (Prozac) and Venlafaxine (Effexor) to help you reduce the anxiety you feel towards your tinnitus. These drugs work for some people, but for others, they actually make their tinnitus worse.
For example, Fluoxetine can cause tinnitus in about 2% of the people taking it according to the Physicians’ Desk Reference (PDR). Since multitudes of people take Prozac, this is a pretty significant number of people. Venlafaxine is no better. In fact, it causes tinnitus in about 3% of the people taking it.
Just because you have to live with your tinnitus doesn’t mean that there aren’t things you can do to help you successfully cope with it. You can learn about many things you can try to help you successfully live with your tinnitus in my book “Take Control of Your Tinnitus—Here’s How“.
If I were anxious about my tinnitus and had trouble sleeping because of it, the above drugs wouldn’t be my choice. I’d much rather use natural means, and there are a variety of them you could try. I’ll only mention two here.
First, you could use herbals rather than drugs. Herbals are typically ever so much easier on your body—no harsh action—and have few, if any, side effects. Best of all, ototoxic side effects from herbals are almost unheard of.
There are a number of herbs that have been used for hundreds and hundreds of years—long before drugs hit the market—to reduce anxiety and promote sleep, and they did (and still do) work. You seldom hear about them, but if you are concerned about ototoxic (and other) side effects, they are a good place to start.
My choice of a herb that reduces anxiety, calms you down and helps you sleep is Valerian (Valeriana officinalis). You can get it at health food stores, or see a herbalist or a naturopathic doctor (ND).
Note: you should not take herbals like Valerian along with prescription anti-anxiety or sedative drugs without checking with your doctor or pharmacist for any drug interactions. For example, you wouldn’t want to take Prozac and Valerian at the same time as the combined action may be too much for you.
The second way to help reduce anxiety is exercise. Far too many people lack an adequate exercise program—and it can show up as anxiety and other things. A vigorous exercise program will work off that extra nervous energy and make you healthily tired, resulting (hopefully) in a good night’s sleep in spite of your tinnitus.
You might want to try these and see how they work for you.