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NEW YORK (Reuters Health) - If you suffer from ringing in the ears, imbibing caffeine won't make it worse, and giving up caffeinated beverages won't make it better, new research from the UK shows.
There's a widespread belief that kicking caffeine can help ease ringing in the ears, also called tinnitus. In fact, doctors may recommend caffeine restriction for patients with tinnitus, despite the lack of scientific evidence for any benefit.
Given that the symptoms of caffeine withdrawal, including headache, nausea, and irritability, are quite similar to those that accompany tinnitus, "it stood to reason that it might actually make things worse, at least in the short term," said Dr. Lindsay St. Claire of the Center for Hearing and Balance Studies at the University of Bristol.
To investigate, St. Claire and her colleagues recruited 66 tinnitus sufferers who consumed at least 150 milligrams of caffeine daily, or the equivalent of about three 12-ounce servings of soda. Coffee can contain anywhere from around 50 to 160 milligrams caffeine per 5-ounce serving, while tea's caffeine content can range from 25 to 110 milligrams per 5-ounce serving.
Over a 30-day period, half of the study participants kept up their normal caffeine consumption, and then went through a "phased withdrawal" in which the researchers gradually reduced the caffeine content of the beverages study participants drank.
The other half went through this withdrawal first, and then went back to their normal intake.
Study participants didn't know which group they were in, and St. Claire and her team purposely made withdrawal relatively gradual, both so people wouldn't suffer severe withdrawal symptoms, and so that they wouldn't be able to tell which group they'd been assigned to based on their symptoms.
The researchers found that the amount of caffeine a person consumed had no effect on the severity of tinnitus. But people did experience significant caffeine withdrawal symptoms, including headache and nausea.
"There was no way it appeared worth their while to go through (caffeine withdrawal), because there was no improvement in their tinnitus," St. Claire said.
While there is no cure for tinnitus, which becomes more common as people age, there are therapies that can help people cope with the condition, St. Claire added. These include cognitive behavioral therapy and even listening to sounds that can mask the ringing in one's ears, for example the sound of running water.
"There are lots and lots of ways that people with tinnitus can be helped," she said, "but there's no sort of magic pill at the moment."
SOURCE: International Journal of Audiology, January 2010.