What Does Ringing in the Ears Mean?

A ringing in your ears can be caused by many different factors. If you get a swift diagnosis and treatment it's possible to overcome the problem without serious consequences.
What Does Ringing in the Ears Mean?

Last update: 27 May, 2022

In many moments in life we tend to hear some strange noises or ringing in the ears. They can bother us, cause us to worry, and sometimes we don’t know what causes them. Has this ever happened to you? It probably has.

In some cases, the ringing sound can be as a result of circumstantial factors. For example, water in the ears or a recent flight. Extreme physical activity or a change in posture can also cause this.

However, some people have this problem repeatedly with a moderate to loud intensity. In these cases, you need to go straight to a doctor.

Loud or continuous ringing in the ears, or both, can be down to a serious problem. Generally, it’s not due to an illness, but is an associated symptom with other problems.

In this article, we will look at some of the causes and a series of recommendations. You should remember as well that your food can also have an influence.

Definition and causes of ringing in the ears

Wooden blocks that read "tinnitus".

Ringing in the ears is also known as tinnitus. It’s defined as a sensation of sound in the ears which doesn’t seem to have an external origin, i.e. only the person with tinnitus can hear it.

According to statistics, “no one knows for sure how many people suffer from permanent tinnitus. But several studies around the world have found that about 5% of adults claim to suffer from permanent tinnitus in one or both ears”. Therefore, there are those who consider that approximately 3.5 million Spaniards suffer from this problem; it feels like a ringing, pulsation, or vibration, among other analogies. Its incidence is higher in people over 40 years of age.

Tinnitus can be caused by different things. The most common reasons are related to audio devices, or other pathological or non-pathological causes.

The non-pathological causes might be:

  • Excessive earwax in the ear canal
  • Water in the ears
  • Foreign objects in the ear
  • Hormonal changes

Amongst the pathological causes we find:

  • Otitis or infection of some part of the ear
  • Perforated ear drum
  • Toughened bones in the ear
  • Growths, cysts, or tumours
  • Ménière’s disease
  • Neurological problems
  • Diabetes and obesity
  • Serious psychological illness

Causes related to trauma:

  • A blow to the head or close to ear as a result of a fall, impact, etc
  • Arterial hypertension and coronary diseases

Other conditions that can cause tunnitus include:

  • Drug abuse.
  • Stress, anxiety, and fatigue.
  • Consumption of certain medications.
  • Exposure to very loud sounds.
  • Exposure to loud and continued ambient noise.
  • Frequent use of headphones at high volume.

What to do if you have a ringing in your ears

If this problem is frequent and continues, you should go to a doctor straight away for a diagnosis. Once it has been identified as tinnitus, or as an illness that causes it, treatment must be swift. This way you will avoid making it worse or the possibility of irreversible after-effects.

The doctor could conduct a hearing test or request other medical tests. It’s possible that the patient will need to be remitted to other specialists like a psychiatrist, psychologist or endocrinologist. Regarding the treatment, depending on the cause, the doctor will choose between medication, surgery, acoustic therapy or radio frequency therapy.

A doctor examining a woman's ear.

It’s recommended that you don’t take aspirin, since the acetylsalicylic acid is harmful in this condition.

The only situation in which you can use home-made remedies is if the cause is not pathological.

  • The recommendations include consumption of certain substances or foods such as pineapple, Ginkgo Biloba, or wrapping warm towels around your ears, among other suggestions.

How to avoid ringing in the ears

One special prevention measure consists in avoiding exposure to loud sounds. In general, this is enough, alongside keeping healthy habits, and looking after both your physical and mental health.

  • Reduce any excessive consumption of salt, sugar, caffeine, and fast food.
  • In its place try to adopt a healthy and balanced diet.
  • Don’t forget to keep yourself hydrated and do plenty of exercise.

Consequences of prolonged tinnitus

A woman trying to listen with her hand behind her ear.
With musical hearing syndrome, the music heard does not come from the outside.

Learn more: Five Consequences of Loud Sound on Your Health

If the diagnosis and treatment is swift, there’s a good chance that you will overcome the problem with no lasting consequences. Otherwise, a lack of care and attention to the problem poses a great risk to your health.

A prolonged episode of tinnitus can degenerate into a loss of hearing caused by the exhaustion of the auditive cells. However, it can also cause the opposite: hyperacusis, a high sensitivity to sound due to over stimulation.

Other collateral damage caused by tinnitus are a reduction in the quality of life and performance at work. The patient can also suffer from frequent headaches, fainting, insomnia, depression, or anxiety, amongst other serious problems.

This text is provided for informational purposes only and does not replace consultation with a professional. If in doubt, consult your specialist.