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by Abigail Van Buren

DEAR ABBY: How would you like to be one of 44 million people in the United States with a loud screeching, roaring, whistling, ringing or chirping in your head? Can you imagine going to a doctor and being told: "You have tinnitus. There is nothing I can do for you. You'll have to learn to live with it." This is the answer millions of tinnitus sufferers hear repeatedly.

In 1993, a loud ringing sound began in one of my ears. It was driving me crazy and made it impossible to sleep. I became stressed out and depressed. It was impossible to continue to work because I was always tired. Not a single doctor could help.

Finally, one doctor referred me to a local American Tinnitus Association (ATA) support group. When I called, they gave me immediate assistance, empathetic care and understanding, and helpful information which led me to realize that I could manage this condition and lead a productive life.

The ATA was founded in 1971. It publishes a magazine, "Tinnitus Today," that keeps its members up-to-date on the latest research and treatments for tinnitus. In addition, it sponsors research, testifies before Congress to encourage more research and has support groups all over the United States.

Thank you, Abby, for spreading the word. -- JOHN NICHOLS, SCOTTSDALE, ARIZ.

DEAR JOHN: I have mentioned the Tinnitus Association before, and I'm pleased to do it again. Until recently, there was no help for people afflicted with tinnitus. However, a number of procedures such as sound "masking," drug therapies, biofeedback and tinnitus retraining therapy now exist that can bring relief to some tinnitus sufferers.

For more information about the ATA, call (toll-free) 1-800-634-8978, or write: The American Tinnitus Association, P.O. Box 5, Portland, Ore. 97207-0005.

DEAR ABBY: This is for the 26-year-old man who wants to marry the 32-year-old woman with a teen-age daughter:

My mother married my stepdad when she was 32. He was 24. I was 14 years old at the time.

I know about problems with disapproving families, and even racism. My mother's family and stepdad's family didn't want to acknowledge the wedding. Despite the opposition, my mom and stepdad have been married for 11 years. Because of the union, I have a little brother I couldn't love more. I also have a great stepdad who loves and respects my mother.

In a way, my stepdad and I grew up together. He's a friend as well as a dad, and he taught me that love and trust conquer all. -- N. BOMAGAT, RENO, NEV.

DEAR N. BOMAGAT: I'm certain the man who wrote will appreciate your supportive letter. Now it's up to him to decide if he's emotionally emancipated enough from his family to follow his heart. Let's hope he makes the right decision for all concerned.

DEAR ABBY: If any of your readers are casting around trying to figure out what to give their sweethearts for Valentine's Day, let me tell you about a surprise that backfired.

I decided to give my boyfriend a special surprise last Valentine's Day. I bought a big red bow, tied it around my waist and prepared to deliver my surprise. I called my Valentine to let him know that I was on my way -- and left my house wearing a coat over nothing but the bow.

When I arrived at his house, I rang the doorbell, and as the door opened, I opened my coat and said, "Happy Valentine's Day."

I found myself face-to-face with MY surprise. He had flown in my parents for a visit! As my boyfriend rolled on the floor with laughter, my dad said, "Surprise!" My mother just stood there in shock.

It's the last time I'll ever try a gift like that. No name, please -- just sign me ... SURPRISED IN SAN DIEGO

DEAR SURPRISED: No wonder red is the color for Valentine's Day. Just be grateful it wasn't HIS parents.

What teens need to know about sex, drugs, AIDS, and getting along with peers and parents is in "What Every Teen Should Know." To order, send a business-sized, self-addressed envelope, plus check or money order for $3.95 ($4.50 in Canada) to: Dear Abby, Teen Booklet, P.O. Box 447, Mount Morris, Ill. 61054-0447. (Postage is included.)

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