You are not alone if you experience a ringing in your ears. It is a common ailment. But that does not mean you should be unconcerned. A ringing in the ears can be a highly distressing and frustrating experience, and in some cases it can be a genuinely frightening feeling, given that it can come on so suddenly.
In this article we look at ways to alleviate this condition.
Definition of ringing in the ears
The grander term for this condition is tinnitus.
Tinnitus, or ‘ringing in the ears’, can usefully be defined as any subjective noise, heard only to you, that is experienced in the absence of any external sound in the actual world. So, for example, if you hear a noise like a very faint siren in your ear, or maybe a small buzzing or humming, when there is no such sound actually being created in the world outside, that is a case of tinnitus. It can also appear in other sound forms, and some people experience tinnitus as a kind of hissing or buzzing or whistling noise. In other cases, it can be better described as a sort of windy roaring.
It tends to vary in pitch, intensity and duration, but when it arrives at a significant pitch, it can be extremely distressing, as it seems to arise, quite literally, out of nowhere.
How common is tinnitus?
Tinnitus is extremely common and it is believed that in America alone there are around 50 million people who are at some point or other affected by tinnitus. It is certainly one of the most common of all hearing impairments. Tha does not mean that if you have a difficult time with tinnitus that you should not seek help. Frequent bouts of tinnitus really need to be discussed with an audiologist or doctor.
Symptoms associated with tinnitus
It is not always easy to be entirely precise about the causes of one person’s tinnitus, as it can arise so suddenly. There are, however, some regular activities that have at least a causal association with tinnitus arising.
Among these is exposure to loud noises. The reverberating effects of loud noises can linger long after the noise itself has gone. In addition, earwax buildup can cause sound to hit the eardrum in strange ways that can lead to prolonged inner noises in the ear. Altitude can also play a part, and many people experience tinnitus at higher altitudes. Speed, too, can often lead to a change of pitch in the ear and some cases of tinnitus are thought to be related to how fast you are traveling.
You may feel disoriented with tinnitus, and in some cases dizzy. It can seem that one side of your head is heavier than the other, due to the asymmetry of the sound. In some cases, you may even have a headache because of tinnitus. In other people a feeling of nausea can develop, as the tinnitus can bring on a queasy feeling, not unlike seasickness, especially if the tinnitus lasts a longer time.
Causes of ringing in the ears
The causes of ringing in the ears vary, but among the most common is damage to the tiny hairs of the inner ear. These are not well known as a critical part of our hearing, but they are in fact vital to the functioning of the ear. These hairs, known as cilia, vibrate when stimulated by sound and as they do so they send signals to the brain. If these tiny hairs are damaged it can cause what is often described as a ‘phantom ringing’ sensation that is not in response to any external sound. In many cases, it is this damage to the cilia that is the cause of the ringing people experience.
The damage itself can be caused by multiple factors. Among these, and the most common cause, is exposure to sudden or prolonged loud noises. Getting older also has an impact, as the ear experiences small incremental damage over time. Some lifestyle habits also put pressure on the ear, such as diving, swimming, some contact sports, or some working environments. Social activities that involve loud music are also significant causes of tinnitus and ear damage.
Some medications are also thought to have an impact on the ear, so check with your doctor if you are suddenly experiencing tinnitus after recent changes to your meds.
Identifying underlying causes
The following are among common triggers that lead to ear ringing.
- Impacted earwax
- An ear infection
- A recent significant noise event
- Allergies that lead to inflammation in the ear
Less common, and more serious, are some circulatory disorders, as these can have an impact on how well your senses function and how well your body sends signals.
Most serious of all, an acoustic neuroma may also be the cause. Though this is a rare medical condition, it is an extremely serious one. An acoustic neuroma – which is a form of benign non-cancerous tumor in the brain – may, if it grows and is left untreated, cause very serious problems and may even be life-threatening. If you have any worries that your ear-ringing is serious, or if it is occurring with a sudden frequency, you must get yourself checked out medically by a doctor or a Ear Nose Throat specialist.
Avoiding loud noises
If you are in an environment where loud noises are occurring, you must wear earplugs or protective headgear. The effect of prolonged exposure to loud noises is potentially extremely serious. There is a high probability of ear damage if you do not take steps to protect yourself from excessive noise. Especially over time, the damage can be significant and may even lead to long term hearing loss.
Remember, excessive noise is to your ears what excessive sunlight is to your eyes.
Though few medicines have a direct causal connection with tinnitus, there are some medicines that have an impact on how your hearing functions. If you are on a cocktail of pills for other conditions, keep a careful focus on whether any adaptation to your medication has led to a more frequent ringing in your ears. If so, talk to your doctor.
It is possible to alleviate the effects of tinnitus and reduce the frequency of bouts of ringing in the ear with some adaptations to your lifestyle. These can be useful holistic approaches to take to the overall workings of your body, as well as to the functions of the ears. It is important to remember that the body is a holistic entity whose operations interconnect.
Reducing stress and anxiety
Avoid as much stress as possible in your life. Among the most important ways of doing so is to ensure you enjoy enough restful sleep. Sleep acts as a deep de-stresser. To maximize your sleep, take steps to make your bedroom dark and quiet. Extraneous noise can be a cause of insufficient sleep, so if you live in a city, for example, you may be wise to use some earplugs.
In addition to sleep, building some meditation or mindfulness activities into your life can be very wise. Even something as simple as deep breathing can make a great difference to how the body rids itself of stress. If the nervous system is calm, you are less likely to have tinnitus.
Importantly, you do need to make time to de-stress. It requires a specific focus. Do not think that the body will just de-stress automatically.
And don’t forget friends and family. Human interaction is essential. If you are spending too much time alone, your body will often carry much more stress than it would if you enjoyed relaxing time with people you care for.
Getting regular exercise
Physical exercise is vital in reducing stress and the kind of stress hormones that lead to tinnitus. Exercise’s positive benefits on the nervous system can make a big difference to whether you rarely or regularly hear ringing in your ears.
In fact, a short walk is often enough to allow your stress levels to rescue and calibrate. Do not ever think a walk is not going to do you any good. It will always be a net positive to your state of mind.
If you can fit in longer walks or more significant aerobic exercise, then that is of course even better.
Practicing relaxation techniques
Meditation works by helping you to focus on the present moment and your thoughts and feelings. It can be a highly centering thing to do. Most people who meditate experience a reduction in their stress levels and an overall improvement in their sense of wellbeing.
Yoga is also an excellent method of restoring balance to your mind and to your body. It, too, can reduce the frequency of tinnitus. Join a yoga class or simply spend fifteen minutes a day at home practicing some yoga techniques and stretches.
Eating a healthy diet
Diet will always have an impact on your life, so it is wise to make it a positive one. Ensure that you respect your body and your senses by eating significant amounts of fruit and vegetables. These are the core of the essential minerals and vitamins your body and your senses need to ensure optimum functionality. In addition, lean proteins, healthy fats, and whole grains are also aspects of nutrition that should play a large part in your diet.
You should avoid junk food, excessive fizzy drinks or high sugar snacks. Eating heavily processed food has often no nutritional value at all, so it is also best avoided.
In addition to a healthy diet, your hearing can also be enhanced and protected by the right kind of additional supplements.
There is a lot of research that shows that magnesium is a great supplement to take to ensure that the body functions well. In addition, the B vitamins are essential and a regular supplement of these vitamins is also a good choice.
Other supplements to seek out are ginkgo biloba, which is also recognized as being beneficial for those experiencing ringing in their ears. And it is vital that you also ensure you are getting enough omega-3 fatty acids. These can be quite tricky to get from even a good diet, so a supplement with these can be an excellent idea.
Zinc and vitamin D, which often come together as a joint tablet supplement, can also be important to take to ensure that your tinnitus is reduced.
Masking the sound
This might sound counterintuitive – to add noise to noise – but in fact masking the sound of the ringing in your ears can help keep your mind more calm as the tinnitus wears off.
This could involve playing music, watching TV, going for a walk outside, or even just putting on a fan in your room. The critical factor is that you ‘mask’ the tinnitus noises with other sounds that are less stressful or that are not so distressing to listen to.
Medication is available, but you can only really be offered this after a consultation with a doctor or perhaps an audiologist.
Importantly, medication for tinnitus may not provide an instant fix, so you need to recognize that it may take time and that patience will be required.
When you have a condition that can cause stress but that is not easy to get rid of immediately, like ringing in your ears, you need to make sure you keep a strong mindset that is positive and proportioned.
To do this, you may find you need counseling at some points. It can, to be clear, be extremely beneficial to talk to someone about how the ringing in your ears is affecting you, as they will be able to give you some strategies for staying in the wider moment of your life and not letting the tinnitus dominate how you live. In addition, their emotional support will also help you frame up ways of coping with bad bouts of tinnitus.
A good counselor will also have relation techniques that they can offer you for when the tinnitus or ringing is especially disruptive.
This is a very rare option, as any operation in the ears is necessarily difficult and not without risk, but be aware that in some cases an ear operation may be the best long term solution to very serious cases of ringing in the ear and tinnitus. If you go down this route, however, it will only be after extensive conversation with medical specialists who judge it the right option for you.
Do not assume that your tinnitus will require surgery; it almost certainly won’t. Most ear-ringing will respond to the treatments and approaches we have outlined above.