Ringing Noise in Ears

Many people experience a ringing in their ears at some point in their life.  It is a sound that usually only they can hear and not other people.  In most cases this ringing sound is not serious.  This ringing is known as tinnitus and may also be heard as a buzzing, roaring, or rushing wind noise.  There are other people who experience the noises differently including a chirping, beating, humming, whooshing or clanging sound. Each person’s experience is individual and the noise type and level is not the same for everyone.  Some people will be bothered more than others with pitch levels of the ringing varying by person.  The extremes are low roaring noises all the way up to a high pitched squeal.  For those affected severely, the noises are so loud for them that they are unable to sleep or concentrate.  It is a constant barrage of noise in the ear(s) that can not be ignored.  The symptoms may occur in one ear, both ears, or alternate between each ear.  Tinnitus has been known to interfere with proper hearing levels for certain individuals.   

Tinnitus occurs in two forms – one less severe than the other.  The less severe version is also less understood, yet the most common form.  The cause typically associated with the most common (and less understood) version of tinnitus is due to damage in the inner ear canal.  However, the problem can occur anywhere within the auditory system.  In a lot of cases, exposure to a loud noise or to constant loud noises will cause a ringing in the ears.  If you’ve ever been to a nightclub or loud celebration, you probably have experienced this form of tinnitus.  What happens is that the exposure to the loud sound will cause the hair cells within the inner ear to bend down or if the sound is too loud it can sometimes break off the hair cells. 

When the hair cells are bent down, the ringing sound typically will go away within a day or two and is not permanent.    However, if the sound is too loud and breaks the hair cells in the inner ear, then the damage is permanent to the inner ear and may lead to the hearing of sounds for the rest of a person’s life.  This why parents always warned you about taking care of your ears and being extra careful around loud sounds – like the radio, television, or lawnmower (plus many other items). 

The second form of tinnitus is known as pulsatile tinnitus.  This is the less common type, although more serious in nature.   People with this condition will generally describe the symptoms as a pulsating noise within their ears.  The cause is mostly attributed to structural problems within the person’s body.  This can include hypertension (also known as high blood pressure or narrowing of their arteries – atherosclerosis), abnormal heart condition like a murmur, glomus tumor which is associated with the ear, abnormal ear components, or other cardiovascular conditions. This type of tinnitus can actually heard by a doctor with a stethoscope (when placed near the neck or ear).  The pulsing sound the person hears is typically their own heart beat where the blood is being pushing through their veins. The causes of pulsatile tinnitus are typically quite serious and require medical attention.

A ringing in the ears is a common problem.  The estimates vary, however the consensus is that approximately 20% or one in five people suffer from a type of tinnitus. Some people have found cures while others have learned to live with noises in their ear.