“What is That Ringing in my Ear?”

That ringing or buzzing sound in a person’s ears or head, which often annoys or distracts, is called tinnitus. Everyone experiences tinnitus, most of us more often than we realize. “Not so,” you say. Tightly cover your ears with your hands. That rumbling noise inside your ears similar to distant surf is tinnitus. Tinnitus is not a disease; it is rarely a precursor to deafness; most likely it is not the result of a brain tumor or ear infection.

Noise information travels to the brain constantly from internal and external sources. Yet we rarely hear the refrigerator motor operating or the fan blowing in the corner of the room or the light rain falling on the roof unless we consciously pay attention to these sounds. We do not notice them because of a mech-anism called habituation, the process by which the nervous system reduces or inhibits responsiveness dur-ing repeated stimulation.

Habituation also allows us to live our lives without being constantly aware of and annoyed by the rings on our fingers, the shirt collar chafing our neck, the watch around our wrist, the shoes on our feet, and scores of similar everyday stimuli.

Why do some people have so much trouble with tinnitus? Fear or anxiety is a major factor. That is why we need to demystify the condition. When tinnitus lingers, we should visit an otologist for a checkup, especially when the noise is in one ear only and we are experiencing other symptoms such as hearing loss, pain in the ear, drainage from the ear, or dizziness.

Most often the cause of the tinnitus is one of five types of stress (CAPPE):

  • Chemical Stress Overconsumption of coffee, cigarettes and other nicotine products, alcohol, or over-the- counter pain relievers; also a side effect of some medications we may be taking.
  • Acoustic Stress Exposure to very loud or prolonged noise, including rock concerts, hunting or target shooting, factory work, operating workshop and lawn equipment, and the like.
  • Pathological Stress Hearing loss, ear infec-tions, other diseases of the ear, wax impaction. Removal of excess wax often relieves the tinnitus.
  • Physical Stress Walk a mile briskly, split a half cord of wood, or dig up the stump of a dead tree. When you take a break from physical activities, you will likely hear blood rushing through your ear. An artery runs through the middle and inner ear, carrying oxygen-rich blood from the heart to the brain. People suffering from a fever during an illness often hear the pulsing blood while lying quietly in bed.
  • Emotional Stress Anxiety and/or depression are common causes for noticeable tinnitus or for increased tinnitus in those who had previously experienced it intermittently. Stress reduction, relaxation techniques, maskers, andbiofeedback are a few of the methods which have helped people with this type of tinnitus.So – everyone has some head or ear noise, but it usually remains unnoticed unless something elevates it to the conscious level. Then it may become debilitating or disabling. Solving the problem involves understanding tinnitus and demystifying it and under-standing the stress factors: CAPPE.The situation is indeed mind over matter. Psychological help may be necessary for tinnitus habituation. Tinnitus retraining therapy, antidepres-sants, or anxiety medications may be necessary to return the silence in the ears.