Here’s why your ears are ringing
Do you ever hear a ringing sound, look around and wonder if anyone else can hear it too?
Well, if there are mostly blank stares looking back at you, it could be because you have tinnitus.
“Tinnitus is a common condition that is often identified as ringing, or sometimes a buzzing, hissing or humming sound in the ears, only audible to that person,” says Dr. Jayna Griesbach, audiologist at Aurora West Allis Medical Center in Wis. “In some cases, it will go away on its own, but for many it can worsen with time and require treatment to alleviate.”
Causes and treatments
Tinnitus (pronounced tih-NITE-us or TIN-ah-tis) affects between 15% and 20% of adults and can also appear in children. It can arise for several different reasons, but there are a few common causes:
- Hearing loss: The most common cause of tinnitus is hearing loss. It may or may not be noticeable to the person experiencing tinnitus, depending on severity of the hearing loss.
- Loud noise: Most people have had mild tinnitus at some point in their lives, typically after exposure to extremely loud noises, such as at a concert or when working with power tools without proper ear protection.
- Ear canal blockage: You knew you weren’t supposed to push the cotton swab in that far, but you did it anyway. Now earwax is blocking your ear canal, triggering tinnitus. An ear infection can have the same result.
- Head or neck injury: Trauma can damage the ear structure, nerves or brain, resulting in tinnitus. This is often the case in only one ear.
- Medication: The condition can be a side effect from high doses of some common drugs, such as aspirin and ibuprofen. Certain antibiotics, chemotherapy drugs, anti-malaria drugs and antidepressants can also trigger the ringing sound.
“There is no FDA-approved treatment specifically for tinnitus,” Dr. Griesbach says. “Instead, treatment for tinnitus focuses on learning to manage tinnitus by reducing an individual’s awareness of the sound.”
Sound therapy, hearing aids or counseling may be appropriate. In addition, better sleep, healthy eating and exercise can improve overall health, resulting in the ability to focus less on tinnitus.
Of course, tinnitus can also be a symptom of a more serious issue, such as a tumor pushing on a nerve that leads to the brain or ear; high blood pressure resulting in blood flow changes that can cause or exacerbate the condition; or even Meniere’s disease, an inner ear disorder often associated with vertigo and hearing loss.
“As is often the case with our health, prevention is the best medicine,” Dr. Griesbach says. “Wear ear plugs when you know you’ll be exposed to extremely loud noises and keep the music volume at a reasonable level. And if you are experiencing tinnitus, make an appointment with an audiologist.”
About the Author
Nick Bullock, health enews contributor, is a scientific writer and editor for Advocate Health Care and Aurora Health Care. He is a former newspaper reporter and magazine editor with a background in science and research reporting. When he’s not writing about the latest health care research, Nick is usually hiking through Wisconsin state parks, reading sci-fi novels or historical nonfiction, trying new recipes, agonizing over Minnesota sports franchises and playing games with his family.