That Con­stant Ring­ing in Your Ears Ex­plained

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Of­ten re­ferred to as ‘ring­ing in the ears’, tin­ni­tus can be many dif­fer­ent types of sound such as hiss­ing, chirp­ing, or whoosh­ing.

What th­ese sounds all have in com­mon is that they are only au­di­ble to the per­son who is suf­fer­ing from tin­ni­tus. This is be­cause tin­ni­tus is a symp­tom of dam­age or dys­func­tion in­side the hear­ing sys­tem. There are many pos­si­ble causes, one of which is ex­po­sure to loud noise.

More than 80% of peo­ple with tin­ni­tus also ex­pe­ri­ence some de­gree of hear­ing loss. How­ever, many tin­ni­tus suf­fer­ers are not aware that they have hear­ing loss. For­tu­nately, ex­perts are able to treat both con­di­tions us­ing hear­ing aids that can play sooth­ing re­lief sounds.

Why do we ‘in­vent’ noises that aren’t there?

Ex­perts don’t know ex­actly what causes us to hear sound that is not there. Many sus­pect that it hap­pens when the au­di­tory sys­tem re­acts to dam­age by try­ing to com­pen­sate for miss­ing sig­nals. In fact, the most com­mon cause of tin­ni­tus is dam­age to the sen­sory cells in the cochlea. This is the snail shel­l­like or­gan in the in­ner ear where sounds are con­verted into elec­tri­cal sig­nals. Dam­age to the hair cells here can cause tin­ni­tus and hear­ing loss.

How­ever, some peo­ple who ex­pe­ri­ence tin­ni­tus don’t have hear­ing loss; this means that there is more than one cause. Tin­ni­tus can also be caused by a mid­dle ear in­fec­tion, ear­wax build-up, in­flamed blood ves­sels around the ear, med­i­ca­tions and other drugs, anx­i­ety and stress. Re­cent re­search sug­gests that the con­di­tion of hav­ing tin­ni­tus in both ears may also have a ge­netic ba­sis, es­pe­cially in men.

How can we pre­vent tin­ni­tus?

Even if you do not have tin­ni­tus, you may have ex­pe­ri­enced a tem­po­rary ring­ing in your ear after ex­po­sure to one or mul­ti­ple loud sounds. As with hear­ing loss, the best way to pre­vent tin­ni­tus is by wear­ing hear­ing pro­tec­tion when­ever you are in a sit­u­a­tion where noise could be dan­ger­ous. In ad­di­tion, it’s im­por­tant to move away from the noise as of­ten as you can or for as long as you can. Noise lev­els ex­ceed­ing 85dB pose a risk to your hear­ing health. In gen­eral, if you are in an en­vi­ron­ment that re­quires you to raise your voice to main­tain a con­ver­sa­tion, that en­vi­ron­ment is prob­a­bly too loud.

If you sus­pect you have tin­ni­tus…

The best first step is to visit a hear­ing care ex­pert. It may not be easy to de­scribe what your hear­ing to your hear­ing pro­fes­sional, but be pre­pared to ex­plain when you started hear­ing the ring­ing, whether hear­ing prob­lems fol­lowed, whether the sound is high or low pitched, loud or soft, whether the sound changes through­out the day and whether the ring­ing is in one or both ears.

Fi­nally, book a free, no obli­ga­tion ap­point­ment with a hear­ing ex­pert to be­gin the process of treat­ing what may be tin­ni­tus.

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