Help! What’s that noise in my ear?
The medical name for ringing or noises in your ear is tinnitus. If you are experiencing it, you are one of millions in the world who suffer from tinnitus. There is no exact science or even the same experience for those with tinnitus. The sounds can range from ringing to sounds such as crickets or other insects. I’ve even had a women claim to be hearing church bells. Also, the intensity can be anything from mild to loud. Some experience variable intensity; others experience a constant sound. I personally experience an occasional ringing that is intermittent. The one constant for people is the frustration. It is at the least a nuisance; to some it can become intolerable.
So how does this come about, and why are there no real medical treatments to resolve this condition, especially with the large number of people who suffer from it?
For one, most medical issues when diagnosed have a definable causal reason for the illness or area that is causing the discomfort or pain. Treatment then centers around dealing with what is causing the problem until a successful solution is found. With tinnitus, the challenge is that there are a multitude of possible causes including genetics, medicines, accidents, trauma, illness, and hearing loss.
You can find all kinds of products or techniques that advertise their ability to reduce or stop the ringing, but most these don’t really work. Some try masking the noise by running a fan, radio, or even ocean sounds while trying to sleep. Recently, in-the-ear tinnitus maskers like hearing aids have been produced. These only cover up the tinnitus at best. They don’t correct it. Additionally, herbal remedies are sold on TV and radio, but seldom work.
So what is the answer?
To begin with, all diagnosis and treatment requires isolating the cause. None of the above noted treatments ever center on isolating the cause; they only declare, “take this or use that and you’ll solve the problem.”
Recently, many professional groups have been formed to help search for the answers and to help people who suffer overcome or manage their tinnitus. Their goal is for tinnitus suffers to be able to lead healthy productive lives free of the sometimes debilitating noise and ringing in the ear. It has been estimated that over 60% of tinnitus suffers have some level of hearing loss. So, what does hearing loss have to do with ringing in the ears?
In this explanation, I will avoid the medical names and instead use the names we all learned in school. The ear functions both as a receiver of vibrations of air waves and a canal vibrating the ear drum. The ear drum is called that because it functions just like a set of drums. Sound Vibrations come into the ear canal, beating the eardrum, The vibrations the eardrum receives are transmitted through the middle ear by the three smallest bones in our bodies. We learned to call them the hammer, the anvil, and the stirrup in school. The stirrup is attached to the inner ear where the vibrations are then change into an electrical impulse by a series of hair cell nerves in a bed of fluid. The new electric impulses are then sent to the brain which translates the impulses into what we perceive as sounds.
There are several types of hearing loss with the two most common being conductive and sensory neural. Conductive hearing loss is the inability of the ear to conduct the vibrations to the inner ear. It can be as simple as wax or something plugging the ear or various medical conditions that constrict the vibrations. Sensory neural loss happens when the vibrations are reaching the inner ear properly but due to damage to the inner ear and the hair cell nerves, the sufferer is unable to receive and transmit the electronic impulses. It could also be caused by an issue with the neurological chain transmitting the correct signal to the brain. Basically, hearing loss always stems from an inability of our ears to transmit the right signal to the brain for one reason or another.
Many times ringing in the ear or tinnitus is a direct result of hearing loss. Your brain doesn’t care if your vision clarity comes from your eyes or your eyes using glasses, contacts, or corrective surgery; all it wants is the correct signal, and you experience clarity of vision. The brain operates the same looking for the correct signal from the ears. When it doesn’t receive the correct signals, the brain searches and searches for what’s missing. Many times that can result in you actually hearing the brain searching for what is missing, or what we call ringing in the ears or tinnitus. Remember the old fax machines? When you called one and it answered, it began looking for the correct signal from another fax. While doing so, it produced an obnoxious noise over the phone line. It wouldn’t stop unless you started your fax machine and the two found each other. Then, the phone line went pleasantly quiet, but the noise would persist if you didn’t have a fax machine until you hung up. Well, you can’t hang up with your brain just because you don’t like the noise. And it won’t stop unless you send it the correct signal regardless of what you try.
So, what is the first step to solving the annoying ringing and noise in your ears? Simply get a hearing test from a licensed professional, announce the ringing you are experiencing, and ask them to identify what frequency it sounds to be during the exam. We at Heartland Hearing perform these tests as a complimentary service at no charge.
This isn’t a cure, but a step to identify the cause so you can go in the right direction to get the best outcome possible without chasing rabbits or spending needless money. Many patients have reported that when they have corrected their hearing loss (sent the brain the correct signal), they experience a great or complete relief from their tinnitus.
Only when you can identify the source of a problem can you successfully fight it and have a chance of success.
It is wise to get an annual hearing screening so you are armed with the facts to take control of your hearing health and wellbeing.
Royce R. LaMarr, BC-HIS