What You Need To Know About That Ringing In Your Ear

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Your doctor has diagnosed the ringing in your ear as tinnitus. Nearly 20 percent of the population experiences a ringing or "whooshing" sound in their ears, called tinnitus, at one time or another. For most people, the sound is temporary, but for some, it is a condition they'll have to deal with for the rest of their lives. Here is what is going on in your ear and the treatment options to prevent the ringing from disturbing your life.

Two Forms of Tinnitus

A person walks by a noisy construction site and their hearing is affected for several minutes afterwards. Typically, the person will have a pulsing sensation in their ears that gradually fades away in a few hours or days. This is acute tinnitus and is the normal way your ears respond to loud noises.

Chronic tinnitus afflicts those people with a sound in their ears that will not go away. The sound can range from barely noticeable to so loud that it affects having a conversation with someone. Treatment of this form depends on the cause of the sound. In some cases, the tinnitus cannot be cured so treatment switches to ways to help you cope with the sound every day.

Causes of Chronic Tinnitus

The ringing in the ears is caused by changes in the bones, nerves or soft tissues in the middle or inner ear. The changes can be due to illness, injury or a degenerative process:

  • changes in the structure of the bones in the middle ear due to osteoarthritis
  • an abnormal growth on one of the bones, such as a cyst or tumor
  • damage to the ear drums or bones from an accident
  • a neurological condition that affects the nerve that transmits impulses from the ear to the brain
  • spasms in the neck and muscles in the back of the head
  • inflammation of the tiny tubes that equalize the pressure between your ears and throat
  • tumors in the soft tissue in the middle ear
  • chronic high blood pressure

Treating Tinnitus

The treatment depends on the cause of the ringing sound. Some medical conditions can be treated and eliminate the noise, such as:

  • Surgical reconstruction of the bones in the middle ear
  • Removal of tumors in the soft tissues or bone
  • Repair of damaged ear drums
  • Antibiotic treatment of inner ear infections
  • Lowering of chronic high blood pressure

When the treatment of the medical condition is too risky, such as the removal of a tumor from the middle ear, or there is nerve damage and no current treatment is available, treatment is focused on coping with the sound. Some of these techniques include:

  • Special hearing aids that offer a variety of approaches, such as:
    • producing white noise that blends with the ringing so your brain ignores both sounds
    • generating musical tones that match the frequency of the ringing that also can be ignored
    • noise canceling to filter out certain sounds and amplify others making conversations with people easier
  • Counseling and support groups to help with the anxiety that comes from the constant ringing in the ears.
  • Hypnosis and meditation techniques that help distract the mind from the sound to help you relax and sleep.

 For more information about hearing aids, visit Audiologists Northwest.