If you've ever heard a persistent sound in your ears, you know exactly how aggravating it can be. Indeed, ringing in the ears — i.e., tinnitus — can be a debilitating condition for many. Read on to learn more about what causes ringing in the ears and which hearing tests are useful for diagnosing it.
What Makes Your Ears Ring?
Tinnitus is the name of the underlying condition you experience if you hear ringing, a high-pitched noise, roaring, clicking, or buzzing in one or both ears. That said, tinnitus isn't the actual cause of the sound. There's always another reason behind the causes of ringing in the ear.
Damage to the inner ear's hair cells is a common cause. In a normal ear, the pressure of sound waves moves the tiny hairs found in your inner ear. The motion causes the cells to send an electrical signal from your ear to your brain via the auditory nerve. Your brain recognizes these signals as sound. If these tiny hairs are damaged or broken, they can send random electrical signals to your brain, which causes a persistent noise in your ears.
In many cases, the cause of tinnitus is never identified. However, tinnitus is often linked to chronic health problems, traumatic injuries, ear issues, hearing loss, or conditions that affect the nerve pathways between your ears and brain.
Some of these include:
- Persistent exposure to loud noises
- Age-related hearing loss
- Blockages from earwax
- Temporomandibular joint dysfunction
- Meniere's disease
- Acoustic neuroma
- High blood pressure
- Cranial tumors
Is Tinnitus Dangerous?
Tinnitus isn’t dangerous in the sense that it isn’t life threatening. However, it could be indicative of a larger problem that requires medical attention. Plus, the condition often causes negative emotional consequences for many people because it so drastically effects their quality of life. That's why it's important to seek an evaluation from a doctor or hearing care professional if you experience ringing in your ears.
Hearing Tests for Tinnitus
While tinnitus is subjective — meaning its severity and symptoms can vary from person to person — hearing care professionals can evaluate and diagnose the condition using a variety of tinnitus testing tools. Since tinnitus is often caused by hearing loss, a comprehensive audiological evaluation is a common diagnostic tool.
Hearing tests for tinnitus assessment may include:
- Speech audiometry: Assesses how well the person hears and can repeat words or phrases using an audiometer
- Pure tone audiogram: Measures the person's hearing acuity across multiple frequencies and volumes
- Tympanogram: Measures the mobility of the tympanic membrane and the conduction bones in the middle ear
- Acoustic reflex testing: Assesses how well the middle ear muscles contract in response to loud noises
- Otoacoustic emission testing: Measures the movement of inner ear hair cells using highly sensitive microphones
While hearing tests for tinnitus can determine the presence of the disorder, they can't tell how the condition affects a person. That's why hearing care professionals often use other tools to assess how significantly tinnitus impacts a person's quality of life. These include:
- Tinnitus Handicap Inventory
- Tinnitus Reaction Questionnaire
- Tinnitus Functional Index
Regardless of what makes your ears ring, tinnitus is a problem that can cause emotional and physical distress. The good news is treatment options are available to lessen the impact of tinnitus. Additionally, as discussed above, tinnitus can be an indication of a larger medical problem. That is why you should consult a hearing care professional if you experience noise such as ringing, buzzing, clicking, or roaring in your ears.
For more information on tinnitus and the equipment that can diagnose and help treat it, get in touch with your local e3 office today!
About the Author
Adam is the Digital Marketing Coordinator at e3 Diagnostics. His interest in hearing healthcare is driven by his passion for music because he feels everyone should be able to clearly listen to Pet Sounds at least once in their life. In his free time, he enjoys playing video games, digging through record stores for classic vinyl, shooting hoops, and writing stories.