What Causes a Ringing in the Ear?

Unless you’ve got your head stuck in a belfry, a ringing in the ear can be puzzling. But it’s certainly not unusual – roughly one out of every five El Paso residents experiences tinnitus. For some it is an occasional nuisance, while others find it a constant distraction. Whether your symptoms are mild or severe, understanding what causes that ringing in the ears is the first step in treating it.

Understanding Tinnitus

Ringing bells that sound like tinnitus to some.

While ringing in the ears is the most commonly reported sound associated with tinnitus, it is not the only one. Others describe a large variety of other sounds, including roaring, hissing, whistling, clicking, whooshing, and humming. If it ends in “-ing” it’s probably been heard by somebody!

Something else that might surprise you about tinnitus is the fact that it isn’t an actual disease. It’s considered a symptom of another condition, and the list of possible causes is long. Tinnitus may be associated with any of the following:

  • Hearing loss
  • Noise exposure
  • Head or neck trauma
  • Stress
  • Migraine headaches
  • Earwax buildup
  • Cardiovascular disease
  • High blood pressure
  • Benign tumors
  • Ototoxic medications
  • Thyroid disorders
  • Vascular diseases

Most cases of tinnitus are subjective, meaning only you can hear the ringing in your ears. Rarely, another individual – usually a doctor or spouse – is also able to discern these sounds. This is known as objective tinnitus.

Treating Tinnitus

Unfortunately, in most cases there is no cure for tinnitus. If the underlying cause is benign, the solution might be as simple as clearing excess earwax from the ear canals or switching to a different medication. But most times, the strategy is to manage symptoms so they aren’t too unbearable. Some of the treatments El Paso patients have success with are:

  • Acoustic therapy. Sounds are used to cover up, or mask, the tinnitus. This distracts your brain and helps you tune out the ringing in your ears. Electronic devices that produce white noise, air conditioners, fans, humidifiers, etc. can all be used.
  • Tinnitus retraining therapy. Similar in concept to acoustic therapy, tinnitus retraining therapy utilizes a portable sound generator that produces soft patterned tones to help desensitize the brain to tinnitus.
  • Hearing aids. Many hearing aid users simply turn up the volume on their devices to amplify speech and background noise, reducing the contrast between tinnitus and silence, which makes the ringing in their ears less of a distraction.
  • Counseling. Counseling and cognitive behavioral therapies can be helpful in reducing the stress, anxiety and sleeplessness that are often associated with tinnitus.
  • Relaxation exercises. Meditation, self-hypnosis and other relaxation techniques help to reduce stress and promote a good night’s sleep.
  • Biofeedback. Biofeedback is a process in which you are connected to electrodes that detect involuntary body signals in response to tinnitus. You are taught techniques designed to help you control your response to tinnitus.
  • Alternative treatments. A variety of alternative and natural approaches to treating tinnitus exist. These include hypnosis, acupuncture, naturopathy, herbal remedies, electrical stimulation and more. Most have not been scientifically proven, so take them with a grain of salt. But not literally, because…
  • Dietary modifications and lifestyle changes. Reducing your alcohol, caffeine, and sodium intake may help decrease the severity of tinnitus symptoms, as will giving up nicotine.

If you or somebody you know is looking for relief from tinnitus symptoms, an El Paso audiologist can help!