Why are my ears ringing?
Twenty-five million Americans have experienced the phenomenon of hearing phantom sounds – that is, sounds that are heard internally, without an external stimulus. For some, the sounds will intermittently occur for as little as five minutes, and for others, the sounds may be permanent. Whether it sounds like ringing, clanging, hissing, whistling, or a burst of air, this condition is known as tinnitus.
What causes ringing in the ears?
Often times, tinnitus is a symptom of an underlying condition, such as hearing loss, earwax blockage, ear injury, or circulatory disorders. Tinnitus itself may cause greater issues, such as heightened stress, anxiety, or sleep deprivation, due to the vexing nature of the sounds experienced. Identifying the underlying conditions that cause tinnitus and finding appropriate treatment often times reduces or masks the ringing.
Tinnitus occurs at different volumes and frequencies, some louder and more distracting than others, depending on the person.
What are the different types of tinnitus?
There are two kinds of tinnitus: subjective and objective.
With subjective tinnitus, the more common form, only the person suffering from tinnitus experiences the sound. Subjective tinnitus may indicate hearing loss due to malfunction or damage of the outer, middle, and inner ear. Often times, subjective tinnitus is caused by damage to hair cells of the inner ear, which are responsible for translating sound waves into neural signals sent to the brain stem. Some researchers have suggested that the malfunction of these hair cells may send signals to the brain to register as sound when there has been no stimulus from external sound waves.
Objective tinnitus, on the other hand, can be heard by someone sitting near the person experiencing the sound. Medical professionals and hearing specialists agree that objective tinnitus indicates conditions related to the cardiovascular system. With high blood pressure, for example, the veins in the head, neck and ear area constrict and emit sounds as a result. Objective tinnitus has also been traced to problems with bones of the inner ear.
Tinnitus & Hearing Loss
Most commonly, tinnitus is linked to hearing loss, whether age-related or due to noise exposure. Hearing loss affects a large number of the American population, with one in three adults over the age of 60 experiencing some degree. Age-related hearing loss, also known as presbycusis, often occurs naturally as we get older, and tinnitus may appear as side effect of this.
Exposure to loud noises, on the other hand, may cause hearing loss at any age, as a result of lifestyle or occupation. Short bursts of sound at dangerous levels have been linked to short-term tinnitus, while long-term exposure to loud noises may cause permanent damage. In 2011, the Veterans Benefits Administration estimated that over 840,000 veterans reported tinnitus following their service. In recent years, studies have shown that people are experiencing tinnitus and exhibiting signs of hearing loss at earlier ages, due to the ubiquity of ear buds and personal electronic devices which play media at dangerous volumes.
If you’ve been experiencing a ringing of the ears, schedule a consultation with us at Green Tree Audiology. Addressing the tinnitus often leads to improving both your hearing health and your overall health.