What to Do About Ringing in Your Ears

Woman with Hand to Ear

If you’ve experienced a ringing in your ears, you’re not alone. According to the US Centers for Disease Control, around 20 million people in America suffer from some form of chronic burdensome tinnitus.

There are two kinds of tinnitus: endogenous and exogenous. Endogenous tinnitus is a hallucination of the auditory cortex where the brain creates phantom sounds and the person experiences it as noise. Endogenous tinnitus cannot be detected by an audiologist with listening equipment, even in principle, because there is nothing external to the brain creating the sound.

Exogenous tinnitus does have an external cause that could, with sufficiently sensitive equipment, be picked up by a health professional. Changes in the structure of blood vessels around the middle-ear, for instance, can create a whirring or rushing sound, as blood passes close to the ear’s sound detection machinery. An audiologist could place a microphone nearby and pick up the same sounds.

Both forms of tinnitus - or ringing in the ears - can be debilitating, preventing you from sleeping or enjoying your life. So how does your audiologist help?

Check for possible external causes of tinnitus

When you visit your audiologist, the first thing they will do is look for possible external causes of tinnitus, including problems with your head, ears, and neck. Your audiologist will ask you to clench your jaw, move your eyes, and twist your neck and then ask you whether your tinnitus gets worse. The ringing in your ears could be injury-induced or related to mechanical issues elsewhere in your face and neck.

The next step is to check the ears with a hearing test to see whether you are suffering from hearing loss, a condition commonly associated with tinnitus.

Finally, your audiologist may recommend imaging techniques like MRI if he or she suspects a particular cause of your tinnitus. The purpose of the scan is to confirm the diagnosis before starting treatment.

Discuss the nature of the sound

How you describe the sounds you hear can help the audiologist determine the nature and extent of your tinnitus.

High-pitched ringing

People hear high-pitched ringing noises most commonly after exposure to a sudden, deafening noise, like a firecracker or jet engine. A high-pitched ringing sound is usually transient, though it can develop into tinnitus in some cases.

Low-pitched ringing or humming

A low-pitched ringing or humming sound in the ears can be an indication of Meniere’s disease. People with Meniere’s often experience intense low-pitch humming before episodes of dizziness or vertigo.

Rushing noises

Rushing noises or heartbeat noises can be an indication of problems with the cardiovascular system and certain types of brain tumor.

Humming sounds

Humming sounds, like rushing noises, are also often vascular in origin. Again, they could indicate problems with your cardiovascular system.

Clicking sounds

Finally, you may notice clicking sounds. More often than not, these have to do with the alignment of the jaw or involuntary contractions of muscles around the ear canal.

Deal with any underlying health issues

If your audiologist believes that you have tinnitus or a related condition, they will then begin treatment. The type of treatment you receive depends on the cause of the ringing in your ears.

Your audiologist may offer earwax removal. Removing excess earwax will improve your hearing, which, in turn, may reduce the ringing from endogenous tinnitus.

Medication may also lead to tinnitus. Audiologists may, therefore, recommend to your doctor that you try alternatives.

Recommend white noise therapy

White noise therapy is an intervention that has been shown to improve symptoms for tinnitus sufferers. People with tinnitus often find that they experience relief listening to white noise, which drowns out the regular sound of their tinnitus. Of course, you don’t have to use white noise: some people find that listening to whale song or the sound of air conditioning units can also help.

Suggest a hearing aid fitting

If hearing loss is at the root of your tinnitus, then wearing a hearing aid may help to reduce or eliminate symptoms. Hearing aids restore the stimulation of the auditory cortex to biologically normal levels, potentially undermining the causes of the ringing.

Tinnitus is a debilitating condition that can destroy your quality of life. But the good news is that your audiologist can help you manage and treat it. If you’d like to find out more about tinnitus and how we can help, call Peninsula Hearing today at one of our convenient locations, Poulsbo: 360-697-3061 and Port Townsend: 360-379-5458.