Why Your Ears Are Ringing

In Tinnitus by Roselynn Gamboa Young, Au.D., CCC-A

Roselynn Gamboa Young, Au.D., CCC-A

Have you ever experienced a ringing noise in your ears? This is known as tinnitus, which can also sound like a clicking or whistling noise. According to the American Tinnitus Association, 15% of Americans (50 million people) will experience some form of tinnitus. Tinnitus can range from mild to severe and be experienced intermittently or constantly. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that 20 million people have chronic tinnitus. Tinnitus can have significant effects on everyday life by disrupting sleep, causing irritability, and creating hearing challenges. Tinnitus is a symptom of an underlying health issue so identifying what this issue is can best help you alleviate it. A few of the most common causes include:

  • Hearing loss. The most common cause of tinnitus is hearing loss. It is estimated that 90% of tinnitus occurs with underlying impaired hearing. Hearing loss impacts over 48 million people, making it the third most common medical condition people experience today. It can be caused by several factors including exposure to loud noise, aging, and existing medical conditions. These factors can damage the sensory cells in the inner ear which play a critical role in how sound is processed. These cells convert incoming sound waves into electrical signals which then get carried to the brain. When they are damaged, the brain receives less auditory information. This produces a range of symptoms including tinnitus and hearing loss.

There are several ways you can reduce your risk of developing hearing loss including

wearing hearing protection, prioritizing care for any medical conditions you have, and getting your hearing tested regularly.

  • Loud noise exposure. You may have experienced tinnitus after attending a concert or leaving a party. Maybe you couldn’t hear as well, heard a ringing noise, and sounds were muffled. This is because loud noise can damage the sensory cells in the inner ear. In response to loud noise, these cells can send random electrical signals to the brain which causes tinnitus. We are exposed to loud sounds regularly so protecting your hearing from excessive noise levels is important. You can do this by wearing hearing protection – headphones, earmuffs, and earbuds are great examples. These items provide the ears with a physical barrier, reducing the amount of loud noise you absorb. You can even have hearing protection custom made for your ears. These items are small and portable which allows you to easily carry and access it when navigating spaces with loud noise.
  • Earwax. We are all familiar with earwax which is a substance naturally made in the ears. Some people can experience an accumulation of earwax in the ears. This can be caused by some producing more earwax than others or the earwax doesn’t naturally exit the ears and becomes stuck. This can block the ear canal and prevent soundwaves from being fully absorbed as well as reaching the inner ear. Not only can this produce hearing challenges but it can also trigger tinnitus. According to the American Academy of Otolaryngology, 12 million people seek medical care for impacted earwax and over 8 million removal procedures are performed annually.

It is important to practice useful ways of ear cleaning to thoroughly remove earwax. This

includes using a cloth, water to irrigate the ears, or seeing a specialist to have earwax professionally removed.

  • Head injuries. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimate that as many as 3 million head injuries occur every year. Head injuries can impact mobility, behavior, personality, as well as health. A head injury can cause tinnitus by damaging the auditory system which can occur in a few ways. Head injuries can break or rupture the ossicles (bones in the middle ear), damaging sensory cells in the inner ear, rupture the eardrum, and constrict blood flow to the ears. This can produce hearing loss as well as tinnitus.
  • Medications. There are numerous medications that are ototoxic which means they are harmful to ear and hearing health. This includes over the counter pain relievers like advil and ibuprofen, specific types of antibiotics, and certain antidepressants. It is important to consult your doctor about the side-effects of any medications you are taking.

Tinnitus can be unpleasant and stressful to deal with. There are effective tinnitus management treatment options, contact us to learn more!