Cleveland Hearing & Speech Center: Why Are My Ears Ringing?

The medical term for the perception of sound when no external sound is present is tinnitus. It is often referred to as “ringing in the ears,” although some people may hear a hissing, roaring, whistling, chirping, or clicking sound. Tinnitus may be constant or intermittent and may occur in both ears or just one.

What Causes Tinnitus?

The exact cause of tinnitus is not known. However, there are several conditions that can trigger or worsen it:

  • Noise-induced hearing loss – Exposure to loud noises can damage and destroy the nerve endings, called hair cells, in the inner ear. Once these hair cells are damaged, they cannot be renewed or replaced.
  • Wax build-up in the ear canal – Ear wax is normal and necessary, it cleans our ear canals and helps to keep unwanted critters out of the canals. However, some people produce an excessive amount of wax that may block the ear canal, resulting in hearing loss and tinnitus. Consult with an ear-nose-throat doctor to remove excessive ear wax. Never use a cotton swab to clean your ear canals!
  • Certain medications – Some medications have tinnitus as a side effect. This effect may be temporary or permanent, depending on the dosage of the medication. Check with your physician for the side effects of any prescribed medication.
  • Ear or sinus infections – Many people may experience tinnitus with an ear or sinus infection. This tinnitus is temporary and should leave once the infection is healed.
  • Jaw misalignment – Tinnitus may result from misaligned jaw joints or jaw muscles. Contact your dentist for more information.
  • Cardiovascular disease – Approximately three percent of patients experience pulsatile tinnitus, a rhythmic tinnitus that often coincides with a heartbeat. This type of tinnitus may indicate the presence of a vascular condition, such as a heart murmur, hypertension, or hardening of the arteries.
  • Other hearing disorders – Some hearing disorders are associated with tinnitus including Meniere’s disease, hyperacusis, and otosclerosis.
  • Certain types of tumors – Although extremely rare, a person may have a slow-growing, benign tumor on the auditory nerve that can cause tinnitus, deafness, facial paralysis, or loss of balance.

What should I do about my tinnitus?

An audiologist is a specialist trained to perform a diagnostic hearing evaluation and offer non-medical rehabilitation options, such as hearing aids or tinnitus maskers. An otolaryngologist (ear-nose-throat physician) is a specialist trained to medically evaluate the functioning of the auditory system. An ear-nose-throat physician may prescribe medicine or perform surgery.

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