Are you up at night with a ringing in your ears that seems to be coming from right inside your ears? This is the sound of tinnitus- a phantom sound which has no external source. The American Tinnitus Association estimates nearly 15% of people, or more than 50 million Americans, experience tinnitus. While most experience tinnitus every now and then around 20 million report bothersome tinnitus. Meanwhile another 2 million report tinnitus symptoms so severe that the buzzing is debilitating. If this is happening to you, it’s common to wonder why this is happening to you! Here are a few common causes of tinnitus and what you can do about it.
While the connection between both conditions is not always a constant 90 percent of people with tinnitus have some degree of irreversible hearing loss. We hear via tiny hair cells which transport audio waves to our brain. Sensorineural hearing loss occurs when these cells become damaged or destroyed. Destroyed cells will limit some degree of audio signal we receive as will damage often. However, the damage to these cells may also cause a source of feedback which is sent to the brain, unintentionally as tinnitus symptoms. While addressing hearing loss won’t cure your tinnitus, it can reduce stress caused by conversing with hearing loss. In addition, many hearing aids now offer tinnitus masking features which cover the distracting ringing of tinnitus so you can focus throughout the day.
Exposure to loud noise
Have you ever left a loud concert, fireworks display or sporting event with a ringing in your ears? This is a sign that the sounds were too loud for your ears. When decibels surpass a safe listening threshold for too long it can damage the cells of the inner ear, causing irreversible damage.
The Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that any noise over 85 dBA for a constant exposure of 8 hours or more can lead to lasting damage. As the decibels increase, the time it takes for damage to occur gets shorter. Every three incriments in decibels halves the exposure time. At 88 dBA it only takes 4 hours of constant exposure while at 95 it takes under an hour. A loud noise above 120 dB, which is like standing near a siren, can cause immediate harm to your ears. It is not always possible to predict when your hearing could be damaged by sound and cause tinnitus. Howevrer, we recommend traveling with ear protection everywhere you go. That way, if a sound feels too loud all you have to do is put ear protection on. This can lower the decibels by 15-33 dBA and keep your hearing clear and free of the buzz of tinnitus.
Meniere’s disease is a rare disorder of the inner ear which effects balance, and hearing. It can also cause tinnitus. Attacks of tinnitus are unpredictable and can last for minuets to even a day or two. Common with middle age and still a mystery as to why it is caused, if you have Meniere’s disease, understand that it is a chronic condition. The good news is that there are therapies and medication which can reduce the frequency of attacks such as medications like diuretics, physical therapy and exercises to improve balance. In rare and chronic conditions, surgery is recommended.
Earwax is not only normal—it’s essential to your ear’s health. Earwax, also known as cerumen, is not technically wax but a combination of dead skin cells and secrections to lubricate your inner ear. Earwax helps keep your ears infection free and self cleans by moving dirt and debris out of your ear canal. However, you can have too much of a good thing. Often earwax becomes impacted, blocking sound through your ear canal and causing ringing in the ears as well. Try cleaning out your ears by dropping a few drops of mineral oil in your ears for around 15 minuets and then taking a hot shower. Never stick anything in your ears to clean them. This is often the initial cause of an earwax impaction in the first place. In severe instances, contact your doctor for a professional cleaning.