As a senior with non-debilitating ringing in the ears (tinnitus), I have avidly reviewed as much information as I could find to understand how to stop ringing in the ears. I assure myself that I was not imaging these noises (which no-one else could seem to hear) and losing my mind.
What is this condition? Why the ringing? How do I stop ringing in the ears? “Is it possible to do so?” Why is it sometimes louder in certain situations or at certain times? I needed answers……..
While there is certainly a lot of digital and hard copy medically related information out there, a one stop quick read targeted at non-debilitated sufferers like myself and people who never even heard about the condition before eluded my searches.
This article reviews several topical literature, articles and websites from the wealth of available material, and presents it in a concise manner for anyone who wants a quick 101 on tinnitus.
I also share some of my own experiences on triggers, and guide the reader to some best additional resources – if further reading is desired.
Once equipped with this basic information, it is recommended that you visit your doctor for a hearing test. By this stage, you should confidently be able to engage with and ask your physician or audiologist questions like a pro!
What is Ringing in the Ears?
“Ringing in the ears” is actually a broad term which is medically referred to as tinnitus. It is not a disease, but is a symptom of an underlying condition. This could be due to exposure to loud noise, age-related hearing loss, earwax blockage, ear bone
changes or a disorder in the circulatory system. It is characterized by the sensation of hearing sound in one or both ears without an external sound being present. The sounds can be soft or loud, high or low-pitched, temporary, intermittent or persistent and may even sound like bells ringing.
Listen to the video clip on “Ringing in the Ears” by Jonoro on Pixabay of an example of what this may sound like to a sufferer.
To better understand how we hear, also view the video clip “Journey of Sound to the Brain” created by the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders (NIDOCD) – https://youtu.be/eQEaiZ2j9oc
Types and Causes of Ringing Sounds
There are different causes for the variety of “ringing ear sounds” we may experience. Causes not previously mentioned are brain tumors, hormonal changes in women, Meniere’s disease, and abnormalities in the thyroid.
How to Stop Ringing in the Ears – Common Types of Tinnitus
Most types of tinnitus however are senso-neural, meaning that they are generally due to hearing loss caused in the snail shaped cochlea or the associated auditory nerves (both in the inner ear).
Damage to hair cells in the cochlea is especially problematic because these cells help transform sound waves into nerve signals. If the auditory nerve does not receive the electrical signals they are programmed to expect from the cochlea, the brain will increase its activity on the auditory nerve circuits to try to detect these signals.
The resulting electrical noise transforms as tinnitus that may be high or low-pitched in nature.
- Low-pitched ringing – may occur in one or both ears and sometimes becomes very loud before an attack of vertigo where you perceive that you or your surroundings are spinning or moving around. Vertigo is not a pleasant experience and typically causes disorientation.
- High-pitched ringing or buzzing – caused by exposure to very loud noise or injury to the head or ear which may disappear after a few hours. Long-term noise exposure, age-related hearing loss or medications can cause a continuous high -pitched ringing in both ears.
How to Stop Ringing in the Ears – Other Types of Tinnitus Sounds
- Clicking – caused by muscle contractions within and around the ear; may be sharp and occurring in short or long bursts
- Rushing or humming – caused by issues with blood vessels and are generally more noticeable when you change your overall body position or exercise.
- Heartbeat – caused by a disorder in the circulatory system such as high blood pressure, blood clots, tumor or, by a blockage in the ear canal and may be very serious
- Hissing, roaring chirping, whistling, screeching, static, pulsing, whooshing, musical or other sounds – caused by stiff bones in the inner ear, earwax, foreign bodies or hairs in the ear canal rubbing against the eardrum.
Check out these sounds in a playlist compiled by the American Tinnitus Association (ATA) of the most common tinnitus sounds – https://www.ata.org/understanding-facts/symptoms . You can use this playlist to find the sound descriptor that best matches your own condition.
Tinnitus often develops gradually, although it can worsen with age. To most people, it is just a source of annoyance, but to others it can be debilitating, interfering with their concentration, sleep, or even cause anxiety, emotional stress or depression.
How to Stop Ringing in the Ears – What are the Facts?
- According to the American Tinnitus Association (ATA), tinnitus affects over 2.6 billion people worldwide. It is believed that between 50 – 60 million Americans suffer from the condition of which 20 million people experience burdensome, non-debilitating tinnitus, and approximately 2 million people are affected by severe debilitating tinnitus..
- It is especially common in people over 55 years, but children and adolescents have also been known to experience it.
An American Journal of Medicine article by Shargorodsky, Curhan & Farwell on the “Characteristics of Tinnitus among U.S. Adults (cited by ATA) identified additional interesting findings aside from age:
Caucasians are more likely to experience tinnitus
Males experience tinnitus more frequently than females
- All articles reviewed expressed the belief that almost everyone has experienced tinnitus at some point in their lives, for at least a short period following exposure to some sort of extremely loud noise. For example, attending a loud concert can trigger short-lived tinnitus.
- A previous article by Metamorphosis Hub on “The Best Hearing Aids for Seniors. Degrees of Hearing Loss” – https://metamorphosishub.com/the-best-hearing-aids-for-seniors-5-degrees-of-hearing-loss/” refers the reader to a Noise Meter created by the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders (NIDCD). Check it out.
- It is interesting to note that some everyday sounds we are accustomed to hearing such as the lawnmower, motorcycle, sports events and sirens, among others, are all above the 85 dB safe threshold for sound.
- The commonest form of tinnitus is a steady high-pitched ringing. The volume of the sound can fluctuate and is often most noticeable during periods of quiet and at night.
- Some medications such as aspirin and other non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs taken in high doses can cause tinnitus but this will disappear when the drug is discontinued.
No “Cookie Cutter” Treatment for Tinnitus
The diagnosis of tinnitus is usually based on the description provided by the affected person and validated by an audiogram and a neurological examination.
The biggest problem is the subjectivity, because everyone perceives something slightly different and therefore treatment can be complicated as there is no “cookie cutter” scientifically derived cure.
Detailed medical questioning is used to elicit information to assess the degree of interference of tinnitus on a person’s lifestyle. Further testing by magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) may be required if underlying problems are detected.
In the event that the tinnitus occurs with the same rhythm as the heartbeat, more detailed tests will be conducted as this indication may be of a more serious nature.
There is no cure for most cases of tinnitus.
The goal of treatment is to help manage the perceived intensity of the ringing in the ears, or the effects of some medical and behavioral indications (insomnia, hearing difficulties, anxiety, depression, social isolation).
Some Triggers of Tinnitus
Just as there is no single universal treatment for tinnitus, the literature shows that not everyone is triggered in the same way.
Possible triggers include fatigue, alcohol, drinks with caffeine such as coffee, tea, carbonated and many energy drinks – all of which most people enjoy. Other known triggers are salt, aspirin and smoking.
Triggers specific to you may also exist, but you will need to identify these by close monitoring of your food and drink intake, daily activities, and lifestyle situations through a process of elimination.
My Experience on How to Stop Ringing in the Ears
Working for several years in the corporate world and frequently traveling 2-3 times a month on various types and sizes of aircraft invariably brought on my very gradual ringing in the ears.
This was compounded by exposure to very loud noise on the small 6-8 passenger jets sometimes used to transport us to some remote Company sites in Northern Canada. The damage was done and tinnitus crept in gradually without any warning.
For many years, I wondered at the ringing sound in my ears which initially were intermittent and later over time became continuous. Occasionally these sounds would turn into loud screeching in the quietness of my bedroom at night.
At first my doctor thought the sounds were being caused by accumulated earwax. Relief was not in sight, and gradually over the years I have learned to block the noise out by fully immersing myself in whatever I am doing.
This is much easier to do during the day than in the quietness of the night.
Recently, by a process of careful self-monitoring, I have found that coffee, sugary foods, fatigue and stress seem to trigger higher frequencies in my tinnitus.
I have tried to adjust my lifestyle accordingly and cut back on intake of caffeine and carbonated drinks – difficult but “do-able”. More importantly, I have learned to relax whenever I become stressed or fatigued. I leave whatever I am doing and move to a more quiet place to calm down.
This article has reviewed the general questions around ringing in the ears and how to stop these annoying noises. Sadly, my research points to there being no scientifically validated method to do so.
Treatment is solely directed at reducing the perceived intensity of tinnitus and will be discussed separately.
What are your triggers to frequency changes in your ringing in the ears? How have you tried to relieve the intensity? I welcome you to share your experiences below in the Comments Box. I would love to hear from you and will most certainly respond.
1. Tinnitus: Symptoms and Causes (2020) https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/tinnitus/symptoms-causes/syc-20350156
2.Tinnitus: Ringing in the ears and what to do about it (April 2020) https://www.health.harvard.edu/diseases-and-conditions/tinnitus-ringing-in-the-ears-and-what-to-do-about-it
3. Tinnitus: Understanding the Facts (2013) https://www.ata.org/understanding-facts
4. Tinnitus and Hyperacusis (2019) https://www.chs.ca/tinnitus-and-hyperacusis
5. Hearing, Ear Infections and Deafness (2020) https://www.nidcd.nih.gov/health