My name is Steve Collins and this article has come about through my own research online to find out more about ringing in the ear otherwise known as tinnitus. You can get more information about tinnitus from Wikipedia. It’s a fairly common complaint that’s bound to get worse in the future given the amount of people you see while out and about, wearing headphones turned up incredibly loud.
First off I should point out that headphones are not the cause of this complaint, they can be one of them, but it’s constant loud noise that tends to be the route of the problem. For example my father has suffered terribly with this for many years. He worked repairing aircraft in the days when no one wore ear protectors and so the damage was caused. As for me, I spent many years on-air as a radio DJ, which I believe has caused my problem and that’s why I’ve been researching online. The theory being, the more you can learn about something, the better chance you have to do something about it.
A Quick Hearing Test
Before I get started with my findings, you might want to take the test in the video below. Use a pair of headphones and you might just get a surprise!
I was certainly surprised with my result. I could hear the first two frequencies which pleased me because the second, 12,000Hz is normally heard only by those under 50 and I’m well past that! I couldn’t hear anything beyond that though. Something else I discovered was that the frequencies I could hear were much better in my right ear than in my left. I did the test twice by swapping the earpieces around just to make sure it wasn’t the headphones at fault – unfortunately they weren’t.
What is Tinnitus?
Most people experience a ringing in the ear at some point, but it only lasts for a short time. Tinnitus on the other hand, is a constant ringing or hissing sound which appears to be in the ears or coming from inside the head.
It’s believed a range of things can cause this condition, it’s mainly hearing damage but can also be age related, circulatory problems, blocked sinuses or even a foreign body in the ear. This usually means that tinnitus is the symptom of something else, so isn’t harmful in itself.
Because the noise is constant it can become very annoying or frustrating. It’s hard to get away from, so can affect sleeping, stress levels, concentration or in more extreme cases, cause anxiety and depression.
What Causes Ringing in the Ear?
There are many different things that can set off ringing in the ear, some are medical conditions such as tumors but the most common are age related, having been exposed to loud noises and earwax blocking the ear canal. There are very tiny, fine hairs in your inner ear and if they touch the eardrum, get bent or broken they give off electrical impulses which fool the brain into believing a sound is being generated, so that’s what you hear.
Having headphones turned up too loud can obviously damage your hearing but if you wear them constantly at high levels your body will try to protect itself. This is in the form of wax building up inside your ear. It builds naturally over time but if you subject your hearing to continual loud noise, that will make it worse. If you’re continually exposed in this way, it’s easy to see how damage resulting in tinnitus might be caused. You can suffer from it at any age but it’s more common from around the age of 60.
Can it be treated?
As this article is focusing on the symptom being created through loud noise, the obvious way to prevent it is to make sure you don’t constantly subject your ears to it. Keep the volume down to a safe level!
There aren’t really any drugs that can help, although some people who suffer badly can become depressed and so get prescribed anti-depressants.
Learning to tune out from the noise can sometimes help. If you try to not think about it, concentrating on something else, your mind forgets about the irritant. This is quite hard to achieve though.
Most people notice a ringing in the ear when they’re in a quiet place with no other noises to distract them, so having a radio or music on at a low level in the background might help. One person I know was advised by his doctor to buy an under-pillow loudspeaker and to play recordings of water flowing to help get to sleep.
It is possible to find ways to cancel out tinnitus to a degree. Masking devices help some people. It’s similar to a hearing aid, but it emits a continuous low level white noise which can help to suppress it.
Less caffeine and nicotine might help as can less alcohol and having your ears syringed if you have a build-up of earwax could reduce it. This condition can be very stressful and that in itself can cause it to get worse, so learning to manage stress might help too.
Unfortunately there isn’t any definitive treatment for tinnitus, most people are told they have to get used to it. I always remember an engineer at one of the radio stations I worked at always commenting on how loud the DJ’s turned up their “cans” and he would say, “Wait till you get older and start to suffer with ringing in the ear”. I wish I’d taken notice to him. The ear is a high precision instrument that can only take so much battering before the damage is done. Unfortunately the damage might not become apparent for many years to come.