What Are the Causes of Ringing of the Ears?

Written by kimberly bunker
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Ringing in the ears, also known as tinnitus, affects more than 36 million Americans constantly, according to medicinenet.com, and millions more occasionally. What few people know, though, is that ear ringing (and tinnitus in other forms, such as buzzing or roaring) is a symptom of a root problem, not a condition itself. The trick to alleviating this terrible burden is discovering and treating the condition causing it.

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Hearing Loss

The most common form of tinnitus affects those older 60 who are simultaneously experiencing hearing loss due to old age. This correlation between loss and ringing suggests that the noise may be a neurological symptom--the brain, primarily the audio cortex, is reacting to the change in input by creating its own white noise to fill the void, and the hearer registers that white noise as ringing. This type of tinnitus can also plague younger people who experience premature hearing loss, and it can ideally be masked by external noise such as a fan or music.

Nerve Damage

Nerve damage goes hand in hand with hearing loss, but it may happen much earlier in life and can be easily prevented. Cochlea damage tinnitus causes about 80 to 85 percent of tinnitus, and the effect is often cumulative. Each exposure to loud noise--such as airplanes, concerts and construction--damages some of the tiny hair cells in the cochlea (the inner ear), damage that may be irreparable. Hair cells can also be damaged by head injury. The damaged hair cells then send impulses to the brain when there was no external stimulus, telling the brain that the ear hears sound when there is none.

Skeletal Misalignment

The ears are very delicate instruments, the hosts of the smallest bones in the body. Skeletal misalignment is perhaps one of the most overlooked causes of ear ringing, though possibly the most treatable. For instance, many people suffer from temporomandibular joint syndrome, or TMJ, which causes jaw pain and an uneven bite--but it can also cause discomfort and ringing in the ears. Another example is the little-known history of chiropractic: in 1895, Dr. Daniel Palmer restored a man's hearing simply by readjusting his spine. Today, chiropractors can help a patient reform his posture and realign his spine, both of which promote ear health and may possibly quiet ear ringing.

Poor Nutrition

Another of the lesser-known but easily treated causes of ear ringing is poor nutrition. Excess sugar in one's diet can raise blood sugar levels, affecting both metabolism and sleep patterns. Lack of protein and fiber in one's diet adversely affects bone and muscle strength, both of which must run smoothly for ears to function well. Eating breakfast everyday is pivotal in maintaining a steady metabolism and having energy all day. These things may seem trivial, but everything in the body, including hearing, is affected by one's diet. Other nutrients that may help alleviate tinnitus are fish oil, calcium, vitamins C and B6, and magnesium.

Stress

Stress, while not usually the primary cause of ear ringing, can be responsible for making it both worse and harder to cope with, according to ringinginear.org. Stress tends to exacerbate existing problems, but there is also a physiological basis for its contribution to tinnitus: The hypothalamus reacts negatively to negative emotions by failing to secrete the hormones that the body needs to function normally. Understanding these causes may allay the stress caused by a constant noise, thus lessening the noise. Other methods, such as exercise, relaxing, and listening to music (at an appropriate volume) can also provide some relief from tinnitus.

Tumors And Neurological Disorders

The least common but gravest causes of ear ringing are brain tumors, aneurysms and neurological disorders. A tumor growing on the audio nerve, whether benign or malignant, can be responsible for tinnitus; in this case, the ear ringing might be accompanied by headaches and other symptoms as well. An aneurysm is a bulging of an artery in the brain. Neurological disorders include hallucinations of music, voices, miscellaneous sounds, ringing, buzzing, whooshing, roaring and hissing; they are often due to misfiring in the audio cortex, and should be addressed by a specialist. These types of neurological disorders may or may not be symptoms of a deeper problem.

Sinus Problems

Many people can attest to the woes of allergy season, and one of its effects is ear ringing. Ear ringing can outlast allergies, though, when the antibiotics one takes as treatment thickens the mucous in the inner ear, and the Eustachian tubes become blocked. Fortunately, in this instance, one simply needs to drain the sinuses, whether with help from a doctor or Neti pot. The problem might last longer if it goes without treatment, though, as it can give rise to both ear and sinus infections--both of which, in turn, can be the culprits of ear ringing.

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