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What to Do About That Annoying Ringing in the Ears

Do you hear ringing in the ears that other people can’t hear? This condition is known as tinnitus, and it’s more common than you might think. This annoying condition can occur as a result of other health conditions, from prior damage to hearing or the head and neck area, or without any apparent cause. It rarely indicates a serious health condition, but you should still get it checked by your doctor, just to be safe.

If you find the constant ringing in your ears annoying, there aren't many ways to stop it. But there are ways to make it less disruptive.

What Is Tinnitus?

An image of a woman holding her earTinnitus is when you experience ringing in the ears that others can’t hear. It's estimated that 15 percent of people experience some form of tinnitus, and it is more common in older adults. In fact, most people will experience tinnitus at least once in their life. However, this will most often be short-lived and often because of exposure to very loud noises like a music concert.

Some people experience chronic tinnitus, when the symptoms last for longer than 6 months. The most common type of tinnitus is a continuous, high-pitched sound. It usually indicates that you have a problem with your auditory system and may need to have a hearing test.

Although tinnitus is usually referred to as ringing sounds, it can also cause other types of sounds in the ears including:

  • Humming
  • Clicking
  • Hissing
  • Buzzing
  • Roaring

As you can tell, this is a highly subjective experience. The sounds can vary in volume from day to day and hour to hour and may occur in one or both ears. Sometimes, it can be so loud that it will interfere with your ability to hear outside noises, and sometimes it will be quiet and barely there. The sounds can also come and go, apparently at random.

Tinnitus Risk Factors

Anyone can experience ringing in the ears, but there are factors that may increase your risk of developing tinnitus including:

  • Regular exposure to loud noises such as construction noises or music from devices
  • Gender, with men more likely to develop the condition
  • Smoking and drinking alcohol
  • Age, as tinnitus can occur when the nerve fibers in your ear die as you get older
  • Certain health conditions like high blood pressure, head injury, or obesity

You may also experience a rhythmic whooshing or pulsing sound in time with your heartbeat. This is a rare form of tinnitus known as pulsatile tinnitus, and it can actually be audible during a physical examination.

Common Causes of Ringing in the Ears

There are several health conditions that can cause tinnitus. However, it can also occur without any apparent cause, so don’t be surprised if your doctor can’t find any cause for the ringing in your ears.

Some of the most common causes are:

Hearing Loss

As you age, the tiny hairs in your inner ear that pick-up sound waves and transmit electrical signals to your brain start to break or bend. This occurs naturally with age, but it can affect how these hairs transmit electrical signals. Basically, these hairs can start to transmit random impulses, resulting in you hearing things that aren’t really there.

Head Injuries

Head or neck injuries can affect the hearing nerves, the part of the brain that registers sound, or the inner ear, resulting in hearing issues. If you experience ringing in the ears because of this cause, you will probably only get it in one ear.

Mood Disorders

Anxiety or depression are both known to bring on or worsen tinnitus, so make sure you address them as soon as possible.


If you have an ear infection or a build-up of matter inside your ear canals it will change the pressure in your ears and can result in tinnitus.

Dental Issues

Problems with your teeth or recent dental work can also bring on tinnitus. These types of problems are often easily fixed with a dental check-up or a mouth guard.


There are certain medications that can cause tinnitus including:

  • Antidepressants
  • Cancer drugs
  • Water pills
  • Some antibiotics
  • Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs)
  • Antimalarial drugs

Often, if you develop tinnitus because of these medications, then lowering the dose will help. And when you stop taking the medication, the noise will stop too.

Ear Conditions

There are certain conditions that involve the ear that can bring on tinnitus such as:

An image of a ear with soundwaves

  • Eustachian tube dysfunction, when the tube that connects your middle ear to your upper throat remains expanded, causing feelings of pressure.
  • Otosclerosis, a genetic disorder that causes the stiffening of bones in the middle ear.
  • Meniere's disease, an inner ear disorder caused by abnormal inner ear fluid pressure.
  • Muscle spasms in the inner ear, which can occur because of certain neurological conditions or without any apparent cause.
  • Disorders of the Temporomandibular joint (TMJ), which is the joint where your jaw meets your skull.

Other Health Conditions

There are also other health conditions that are associated with ringing in the ears such as:

  • Blood vessel disorders that cause your blood to pump harder through your veins and arteries, such as high blood pressure.
  • Acoustic neuroma, a type of noncancerous tumor on the cranial nerve.
  • Other neck, head, or brain tumors.
  • Diabetes.
  • Insomnia or other sleeping problems.
  • Migraines.
  • Anemia.
  • Thyroid problems.
  • Autoimmune disorders such as lupus or rheumatoid arthritis.

Should You See Your Doctor?

You should always see your doctor when you experience a new or unusual symptom. However, some people don’t worry about the noise in the ears and others find it extremely annoying. How problematic you experience the noise to be will probably dictate how quickly you make a doctor’s appointment.

However, make sure you make an appointment to get the ringing in the ears checked soon if:

  • Your symptoms appear after a respiratory infection and don’t improve.
  • You have hearing loss.
  • Dizziness occurs along with the sounds.
  • You’re anxious or depressed because of the sounds.

What to Expect At The Doctors

When you go to the doctor for tinnitus, your doctor will most likely:

  • Perform a physical exam to check your ear canals and your jaw and neck.
  • Take a medical history to see if there’s any hearing loss in your family.
  • Get details about the sounds including the duration, the nature of the noise, and whether it’s constant or comes and goes.
  • Evaluate any medications you’re taking to determine if they could be causing the noise.
  • Schedule tests like a hearing test if the sound is continuous and high-pitched.
  • Perform MRI or CT imaging if your doctor suspects a tumor or problem with your blood vessels.

Preventing Tinnitus

An image of an older man trying to hear a woman talkingOften, we don’t think about our hearing until we develop problems like ringing in the ears or when our hearing starts to fail because of age. Yet hearing loss is one of the most common disabilities in the modern world.

If you want to do what you can to protect the health of your ears and your hearing, then here are some steps you can take:

  • Limit your exposure to loud sounds.
  • Wear ear protectors if you work in a loud environment.
  • Quit smoking.
  • Exercise and eat well to protect your cardiovascular health.
  • Turn down the volume on TVs and other devices.
  • Limit your intake of caffeine and alcohol.
  • Sleep well.
  • Address any insomnia.
  • Get therapy for any mood disorders.

Managing Tinnitus

Unless you have a specific health condition that’s causing ringing in the ears, there’s not much that your doctor can relieve or eliminate this condition. However, there are things you can do to manage your tinnitus better, though you may need a combination of techniques to find what works for you.

Some strategies that might help include:

  • A hearing aid for tinnitus that’s associated with age-related hearing loss.
  • Taking ginkgo biloba supplements can help some people, though there’s no evidence for this.
  • Get regular massages to reduce tension in your neck and jaw.
  • Try acupuncture.
  • Try cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) to change the way you think about and react to the condition.
  • Experiment until you learn how to mask the noise with music, white noise from a fan, pink noise like ocean waves, or other sounds.
  • Tinnitus retraining therapy (TRT), during which a device is used to mimic the tinnitus sounds to get your brain used to tuning them out, so they’re less annoying.
  • Manage your stress with techniques like biofeedback, meditation, and mindfulness practices.
  • Eat a healthy diet.
  • Get plenty of sleep.
  • Exercise regularly.

The Link Between Tinnitus and Adrenal Fatigue

An image of a doctor looking into a woman's earAdrenal fatigue is an often under-recognized condition that is connected with chronic stress and can lead to tinnitus. Adrenal Fatigue Syndrome (AFS) occurs when ongoing stress causes the overuse of the NeuroEndoMetabolic (NEM) stress response. This stress response activates in stressful times and causes the release of cortisol, known as the stress hormone, from the adrenal glands.

The increased cortisol makes changes throughout the body that prepare you to respond to the cause of the stress. However, when stress becomes chronic, the NEM stress response becomes overworked. If this situation isn’t alleviated, the adrenal glands can become fatigued and start to break down. And the NEM stress response and all its circuits can then become unbalanced and start to malfunction, causing a debilitating combination of symptoms and health conditions.

Symptoms of tinnitus can occur or worsen because of imbalances and malfunctions in the Cardionomic Circuit, which includes the cardiovascular system (CVS), the adrenal glands, and the autonomic nervous system (ANS). As this circuit becomes unhealthy and dysfunctional, it can cause a range of symptoms and issues, including tinnitus. Here’s how the various parts of the Cardionomic Circuit can bring on this symptom:

The Adrenal Glands

The adrenal glands are usually the first organ to degrade in health with AFS. This is caused by overwork due to prolonged chronic stress. And stress is known for causing or bringing on tinnitus.


As AFS progresses, the sympathoadrenal system (SAS) of the ANS malfunctions. This causes an overload of norepinephrine and epinephrine. These are the hormones that can make you alert and active, but when their levels are abnormal, they can also cause anxiety, insomnia, and a rapid heart rate, all of which can bring on or exacerbate ringing in the ears.


Malfunctions in the CVS are a key cause of tinnitus. As the CVS becomes unhealthy in AFS, you may experience issues like postural hypotension, irregular or high heart rate, high blood pressure, and other problems associated with tinnitus.

These types of problems often worsen already existing problems with insomnia and anxiety, which will increase your chances of developing tinnitus even further. All of these issues can also cause more stress, which can worsen AFS and imbalances in the Cardionomic Circuit. And this in turn may worsen tinnitus.

The Takeaway

Ringing in the ears can be very annoying, but it’s usually harmless and often is a natural part of aging. This doesn’t mean you should just ignore it though. As with any physical change, it’s important that you visit your doctor to get this symptom checked and to rule out any potentially dangerous conditions.

Here’s what you should do if you suddenly develop tinnitus that just won’t go away:

An image of an older woman being fitted for hearing aids

  1. See your doctor for a checkup and to eliminate conditions that could be causing it.
  2. Improving your lifestyle to reduce stress and increase your overall health.
  3. Learn how to mask the sounds with music or white noise so you aren’t focusing on it, particularly at night when it can disrupt your sleep.
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Dr. Lam’s Key Question

Ringing in the ears is a very common and annoying complaint. It can be caused by a range of issues from age-related hearing loss to tumors, but most of the time, there’s no apparent cause, and you will have to learn to ways manage the condition instead.

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