Ringing in the Ear
You might not have heard of tinnitus, but I bet you’ve heard of ringing in the ear. This condition can sound like ringing, but it can also sound like hissing, clicking or buzzing. Some people experience loud ringing in the ears, while some people have softer ringing. It can happen in one ear or both ears.
Ringing in the ear is common. About 10 percent of the adult U.S. population is estimated to have this condition lasting at least five minutes in the past year.
What causes ringing in the ear?
Everyday sounds shouldn’t damage your hearing. But hearing loud and harmful sounds over time can cause damage. These include:
- Loud music concerts
- Loud sporting events
- Power tools
Ongoing exposure to noise can damage the tiny sensory hair cells in your inner ear that help send sounds to the brain. This is why factory or construction workers, road crews and even musicians can experience hearing problems.
Members of the armed forces who have been exposed to bomb blasts also can develop tinnitus.
Other things can cause ringing in the ear besides noise. These include:
- Ear and sinus infections
- Meniere's disease, an inner-ear condition that can cause vertigo, a type of dizziness in which you feel as though you're spinning
- Diseases of the heart or blood vessels
- Brain tumors
- Hormonal changes in women
- Abnormalities in the thyroid, a gland that sits low on the front of the neck.
- Side effects of medications: More than 200 drugs are known to cause tinnitus when you start or stop taking them.
How can you treat ringing in the ear?
If you’re experiencing ringing in the ear, schedule an appointment with a primary care doctor. Sometimes, treatment is as simple as removing wax or some other blockage in the ear.
Your doctor will also ask you about your health and medications to determine if an underlying condition is causing the ringing in the ear.
Your primary care doctor might refer you to an ear, nose and throat doctor, who will examine your head, neck and ears and test your hearing to determine whether you have any hearing loss along with the tinnitus. You might also be referred to an audiologist who can measure your hearing and evaluate your tinnitus.
Ringing in the ears can be annoying and persistent. Your doctor will work with you to reduce the severity of the ringing and the impact on your day-to-day activities.
Your doctor might suggest:
- Hearing aids, if the ringing is accompanied by hearing loss
- Counseling, to learn relaxation and coping techniques
- For many people, nighttime ringing is often a main concern, particularly when going to bed. Commonly used masking strategies include the use of low-volume background music, white noise or simply keeping a fan running at night.
- Wearable sound generators, similar to a hearing aid. Think of them as your tiny, personal, white-noise machines that can help mask the ringing.
- Tinnitus retraining therapy. These programs typically use a combination of counseling and sound exposure to help change the way we perceive and react to tinnitus.
I think most of us can agree that a quick and easy medicine or supplement to take away the tinnitus would be ideal. With that said, there are many supplements on the market that claim to do just that. Unfortunately, there is not a lot of evidence to support it, and some of these supplements may have potential side effects. Before considering any over-the-counter or online remedies, make sure to discuss the potential risks and benefits with your doctor.
How can you prevent ringing in the ear?
A good rule of thumb is that if the noise is loud enough that you must yell to be heard, it’s too loud.
- Turn down the volume
- Walk away from the loud noise
- Avoid loud, noisy places
- Use hearing protection
Learn more about internal medicine specialist Philip Denoux, MD