What causes ringing in the ears?
One of the most common hearing related questions asked is what causes ringing in the ears? On the outside the ears funnel sounds into the ear canal then down to the eardrums where you process that sound into frequencies. The inner ear is filled with fluid made of various minerals in the body that helps it balance the vibrations coming in through the ears. Tiny hairs inside the inner ear read these vibrations and convert them into electrical signals the neurons in the brain read and translate into sounds that make sense to us.
The Inner Ear:
The inner ear is constantly purging this fluid/mucus (glue like consistency) and replenishing it to optimize hearing clarity (and health). A problem comes in when the inner ear cannot purge this fluid and becomes backed up. This is called a blockage and can also happen due to wax build up in your ear canal or if your body suffers an infection which causes mucus build up (blockage by mucus).
If the balance in the inner ear is disturbedin any way, sound can’t be processed fluently. This causes sound to get garbled and impossible for the brain to process. This also makes the ear drums ineffective/inefficient because they become tight and build up pressure. At this point your ears feel “full”. Eventually this evolves into tinnitus – a ringing in the ears that is consistent.
Ringing in the ears is caused by a variety of things. If your ears are exposed to extremely loud or high pitched sounds for any duration, the first thing that happens is wax starts to build up “clogging” the hallways of sound. If you don’t clean your ears often and the wax builds up, you could end up pushing it back towards the eardrum.
A buildup of this wax can block and refract sound but often dulls it as a first sign of a problem. If too much wax builds up it can create a blockage in the canal trapping air out from reaching the Eustachian tubes which causes a backup of mucus/fluids in the inner ear.
The Eustachian tubes are small tubes located between the ear and back of the nose. They’re designed to remove mucus created in the inner ear. If they don’t open the mucus becomes trapped, backing up fluid in the inner ear. This causes instability in overall balance and can create a condition called tinnitus.
Tinnitus is a ringing in the ears that is consistent and often accompanied by a severe dulling of all other sounds. The ringing can cause headaches and make thinking difficult. It generally starts as a dullness in hearing or temporary hearing loss and gets worse from there. If you ignore it, it just gets worse.
When you hear the ringing you should realize there’s a problem. This is a sign, often, that the inner ear is misbalanced and agitated. Things like a lot of salt and sugar in the diet can agitate it further. The inner ear has fluids made up of a selection of minerals the body creates from foods you eat.
What Actually Causes The Ringing in the Ears?
When the inner ear is mis-balanced or backed up with fluid/mucus, due to wax build up, for example, can cause pressure in the ears. This tends to dull hearing. If you have a cold or any kind of infection of the throat it can exasperate the problem. The infection causes mucus to form which could back up the inner ear with fluids causing a chain reaction that can drive you crazy because it’s a ringing in the ears that doesn’t stop- you can’t escape it.
Often when the cold or infection tapers away, so does the ringing and pressure. Hearing is restored to normal. If the condition is not taken care of, a temporary condition can become a permanent one. A ringing in the ears caused by condition called otitis media could become a permanent condition if the cochlea (internal and vital part of the inner ear) becomes damaged.
Otitis media is the condition mentioned earlier where the Eustachian tubes between the ears and behind the nose don’t open and mucus backs up into the inner ear breaking the balance. When the cochlea is damaged the inner ear cannot process sound correctly but what you continue to hear is a bunch of sharp, scratchy, or ringing sounds as the inner ear attempts to translate audible information from your environment.
You should take care of your ears, its well worth the work! Keeping overly loud noises out, especially for extended periods of time is a big first step. Clean your ears, don’t wait till it builds up with wax- especially if you use headphones often or talk on the phone a lot.
If you feel your ears pressurize and sounds muffle, keep your salt/sugar balanced and in moderation. It means your inner ear is likely interrupted. Salt and sugar agitate it so make sure your not making it worse. Pressure in the ears is the first sign of a problem. If you hear ringing your in the middle of the next stage- tinnitus.
Keep in mind most forms of tinnitus (the medical term for what causes ringing in the ears) are not permanent. Leaving a concert with 3 hours of penetratingly loud music and screaming in your ear will leave you with a very temporary form of tinnitus (the first time possibly).
Your hearing will be dull and you’ll hear a high pitched ringing sound that’s constant. If this happens over and over again in succession it could become a major tinnitus issue. From there it becomes permanent. The inner ear is actually quite fragile, so be careful with loud noises.
Not all permanent tinnitus sufferers were irresponsible with their hearing. Some diseases, stress, and overexertion can also cause it. Infections in other parts of your body can cause a mild case to escalate and if not treated, infections in the inner ear can cause permanent damage. Stay away from alcohol and caffeine if you’re in the middle of it- these tend to exacerbate the problem.