Ringing in Ears

Ringing in the Ears May Be More Than Just an Annoyance

Just as a falling barometer is a reliable indicator of black clouds, rain, and strong winds in the near future, a ringing sensation in the ears is a pretty reliable sign that all may not be well with one’s hearing. If you should doubt this, just pay a visit to your local shooting range and loose off a few rounds while not wearing ear defenders. Not only are you certain to experience plenty of phantom ringing, but any sound you are able to hear for the next day or two will seem as if it is passing through a layer of thick syrup.

The good news is that, in this instance, both of these symptoms will eventually cease. But how can they be explained? While there is a valid enough explanation for the temporary hearing loss, the mechanism cited as responsible for the concurrent ringing in the ears, although logical, remains somewhat conjectural.

For sound to be received and interpreted by the brain, both physical conduction and sensorineural activity are required. Problems with the outer and middle chambers of the ear interfere with the conduction of sound. However, where their effect appears to be permanent, they can usually be overcome with an amplification device to boost the volume.

Sensorineural hearing loss, unfortunately, is not as easily circumvented. It involves damage to specialised cells in the inner ear that cannot be repaired or replaced when too badly affected, thus preventing conducted sounds from being converted to the nerve impulses required by the brain. Ringing in the ears is frequently experienced by patients with this type of hearing loss, and has been blamed on the release of free radicals from the damaged hair cells. It has been further suggested that the released radicals produce anomalous effects in the hearing centres of the brain. Some support for this theory may be drawn from the fact that the use of medication rich in antioxidants has proven to be effective in promoting aural health.

However, there is one thing about tinnitus of which there can be no doubt. While for most people, the phantom ringing in the ears will never be more than an annoyance and an occasional distraction that they can normally ignore, for an unfortunate few, the effects of tinnitus can be extremely debilitating, and can have a serious impact on their lifestyle. In extreme cases, the noises can become so intense and persistent that they can lead to severe, chronic depression. Of concern in such cases is that, although it is not known to be a cause of this condition, depression is frequently seen to produce an increase in the intensity of the intrusive sounds.

Incidentally, the sounds experienced by tinnitus sufferers do not always present as a ringing sensation. Other phantom sounds in the ears without an obvious source include whistling, buzzing, clicking, and whooshing, while some sufferers have even reported that they hear voices and music.

For those who might have been hoping to learn of some miracle cure, the unfortunate truth is that up to now, none has been found. Fortunately, however, there are a number of ways in which the tinnitus sufferer can learn to manage the condition, thereby limiting its debilitating effects.

In keeping with the fact that tinnitus is almost invariably accompanied by some degree of hearing loss, it should not come as a surprise that the enriched sound environment created by wearing a quality hearing aid can often be effective in totally masking any ringing in the ears, or at least, limiting the symptom to a level at which it can be ignored with comparative ease.

In practice, most tinnitus treatments are directed at helping the subject to prevent the phantom noises from becoming too intrusive. Often, the first step will be a course of counselling by an audiologist who will discuss the various coping techniques that can be of help. A more technical approach and one that is also very effective is the use of a white-noise generator that serves to mask those unwanted sounds. The generator may be built into a hearing aid, offered as a mobile app, or as be a recording that may be played over a speaker. Again, the effect is to mask the intrusive ringing in the ears with more acceptable and relaxing sounds that enhance the listening experience. If you are experiencing a problem with phantom sounds, contact an expert at Ear Institute.
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