Woman with ear problem
Ear Problems

Why Are My Ears Ringing?

For many, the quest for a quiet space is about more than finding a noise-free room to gather one’s thoughts. About 10 percent of the U.S. population, about 25 million Americans, has experienced tinnitus (ringing in the ears) lasting at least five minutes in the past year, according to the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders.

Tinnitus is the perception of sound when no external sounds are actually present. Often described as a constant “ringing in the ears,” tinnitus can present itself as a variation of different types of sounds. This may range from sounds of whistling to swooshing to buzzing.

Tinnitus is not a disease, but rather a symptom of an underlying problem. Treatment begins with identifying its cause.

Common causes of tinnitus include:

Auditory trauma

Exposure to loud noises can trigger tinnitus. This is common in situations of occupational noise. Think construction workers, landscapers, or musicians. Workers in these fields can regularly face noise decimals upwards of 95+. Hearing is put in harm’s way when constant exposure over 85 decimals occurs.

Age-related hearing loss

Age is the strongest predictor of hearing loss among adults aged 20-69, with the greatest amount of hearing loss in the 60 – 69 age group. Tinnitus can result directly from hearing loss.

Earwax buildup

Excessive wax in the ear can cause tinnitus. The earwax that our bodies naturally produce help clean, protect and lubricate our ears. However, when too much wax builds in our ears, our eardrums can become irritated and/or hearing loss may occur, which can lead to tinnitus.

If you’re experiencing noise in your ears that extends for a period of time, you should consider the following:

An appointment with your physician

While less common, tinnitus can be an early indicator of a serious medical condition such as a tumor or hypertension. It is best to receive a full check-up by your physician to eliminate more serious concerns.

Hearing aids

Particularly for those also suffering from hearing loss, hearing aids can reduce the impact of tinnitus. When your actual hearing improves, your tinnitus may become less noticeable.

Tinnitus maskers

If you’re not suffering from hearing loss, an audiologist can fit you with a tinnitus masker. This device looks like a hearing aid, but instead produces sounds that “mask” tinnitus. These sounds make the tinnitus more tolerable.

White or pink noise devices

White noise, such as the steady whir of a fan, can help mask tinnitus. The same is true for pink noise, which refers to a balanced mix of high and low frequencies (e.g. waves crashing or leaves rustling). These devices can be particularly helpful at night while sleeping and can be found for as low as $20. There are also apps that can be streamed on your phone or tablet for as little as $2.

Tinnitus retraining therapy

While this can be a more costly option (it’s typically not covered by insurance), tinnitus retraining therapy has shown positive results for those suffering from tinnitus. It uses a combination of sound therapy and counseling to try and reduce a patient’s focus on tinnitus. The objective is to disassociate tinnitus with negative occurrences and associate it with positive occurrences. This can help reduce stress often associated with tinnitus, which can make it worse.

Cases of tinnitus vary greatly. In some cases, it’s hardly noticeable until someone brings it up in conversation. On the other end of the spectrum, it can be so disruptive that it interferes with every part of your day. Ultimately, if you are feeling bothered in any way by noise in your ears, you should immediately schedule an appointment with your doctor.