Sudden exposure to very loud sounds may cause your ears to ring with a sensation of sound that’s not actually happening, and at the same time your regular hearing could be reduced. Often, this effect is temporary, but hearing damage could accumulate over time, leaving you with permanent phantom sounds. Medically, it’s called tinnitus, though it’s commonly referred to as ringing in the ears.

Tinnitus isn’t a disease, but rather a symptom of a disease or a side effect of other conditions or medications. It’s not a serious issue on its own, but it can be annoying or even severely distracting to the point it interferes with your life. About 50 million people in the United States have some level of tinnitus, and 40% of them have a chronic issue. For about two million people, tinnitus is severe enough to be disabling.

Despite the seemingly mysterious nature of the condition, there are solutions for tinnitus, and your treatment journey starts with Hearing & Balance Services of Reston. Our tinnitus specialists help you cope with the symptoms regardless of their origin.

The common causes of tinnitus

Human hearing is a complex system, starting with sound entering your ears before conversion to, first, mechanical energy and, then, to electrical signals interpreted by your brain.

Most of the time, tinnitus stems from damage to the tiny hairs inside your cochlea. Movement of these hairs contributes to the conversion of sound to electrical impulses. When these hairs are damaged, tinnitus can occur.

Tinnitus often accompanies age-related hearing loss, a normal part of getting older for many people. Typically affecting both ears, age-related hearing loss usually starts with high frequency sounds. Related tinnitus may develop at any time.

Exposure to loud noise may be responsible for damage to the hairs in the cochlea, creating tinnitus. It’s more likely to be permanent when you’re regularly and repeatedly exposed to the source, such as with factory work or attending loud concerts.

An overproduction of cerumen — better known as earwax — can both dull your hearing and cause tinnitus. Usually, your body expels wax naturally, but when it doesn’t, visit Hearing & Balance Services of Reston for cerumen removal.

Some medications have tinnitus as a side effect. If you already have ringing in the ears, these same medications can make it louder. Common drugs that may aggravate tinnitus include:

  • Non-steroidal anti-inflammatories (NSAIDs) like ibuprofen and naproxen
  • Some antibiotics
  • Cancer medications
  • Antidepressants

Some of these medications are dose-dependent. You’re more likely to have tinnitus if you’re taking strong doses.

Blood pressure and blood vessel issues can sometimes cause a type of ringing called objective tinnitus, where your audiologist or doctor can hear the sound during an exam. This is a very rare problem though.

When phantom sounds start to become a problem, contact Hearing & Balance Services of Reston. They can help determine the origin of your tinnitus and more importantly, help you cope when the sounds interfere with your life.