“My ears are ringing.”
It’s a complaint we hear every day. The noise inside your head may sound like ringing, buzzing, chirping, humming, roaring, pulsing, or something very different. But what is it? Is it dangerous? What can I do about it?
What is it?
Noise inside your head is called tinnitus (pronounced tin-ih-tus). Tinnitus is extremely common, affecting about 20% of the general population. Tinnitus is usually just a symptom or side-effect of some other condition. The most common underlying problem is hearing loss. There are tens of thousands of tiny hair cells inside the inner ear structures. The hair cells can sustain damage (from excessive noise, certain medications, other diseases, etc.). When the hair cells are damaged, they can no longer innervate the auditory nerve properly; this disruption causes an abnormal perception of sound: tinnitus.
Interestingly, men are more likely than women to have tinnitus. The problem is more common in older populations, and Caucasians are more likely to experience tinnitus than other ethnicities. Those at the most risk for tinnitus are people exposed to loud noises.
Is It Dangerous?
In most cases, no. It is very unusual for tinnitus to be anything more than a nuisance. On occasion, tinnitus can be a sign or symptom of something more serious happening inside the ear.
Many diseases (and many medicines!) have tinnitus as a side effect. Tinnitus itself is not a dangerous problem, but sudden or extreme onset of tinnitus should be evaluated immediately.
What can I do about it?
Get a full evaluation. Online resources and research are great. But to really find out what’s going on with your tinnitus, you need a full evaluation. Depending on the outcome, there may be ways of reducing or even eliminating the tinnitus. Many people have to learn to live with the tinnitus, but there are usually some good strategies for managing the problem.
The bad news is that tinnitus has no cure. The tiny structures in the inner ear are simply not accessible for repair.
The good news is that many treatment and management options are available. For most people, tinnitus is not noticeable as long as there are other sounds to keep their attention. Many who have tinnitus use a fan or bedside noise-maker during the night to help mask the sound of tinnitus. When the tinnitus is associated with a hearing loss, then hearing aids are often the most effective form of tinnitus treatment/management.
Click this link for a good resource on tinnitus: