Ear ringing is the common term for the medical condition of tinnitus. The Mayo Clinic website states that as much as 20 percent of the population of the United States experiences some level of ear ringing. This condition is not a disease unto itself but rather the symptom of another underlying problem. Different afflictions can result in ear ringing, with any treatment attempting to cure the ailment or at least reduce its effects on the individual.
While tinnitus and ear ringing are interchangeable terms, the actual noise people hear in their affected ear or ears varies from one to another. Some hear a high-pitched ringing, while others may hear a buzzing noise. Ear ringing has been described as a roaring sound, a clicking one and even a whistling or hissing sound in one or both ears. The pitch of the noise may go up and down. In many instances, the sound can become so noticeable that it makes it difficult to concentrate. Tinnitus can be ever present or intermittent, coming and going over time.
Ear ringing can be the result of hearing loss as a person grows older. Around the age of 60 years old, the average person begins to experience some hearing loss. This can cause ear ringing. Damage to the cells in the inner ear can also bring about tinnitus. Exposure to very loud noises can precipitate short-term ear ringing. Construction equipment, airplanes, gunshots and chain saws are all loud enough to bring about ear ringing, but this type will normally subside as long as the exposure isn't over a long period of time. Blockage from earwax present in the ear canal can also cause tinnitus. When a person's ear bones stiffen in the middle ear, ear ringing can also occur, a problem that seems to actually be prevalent in some families.
Meniere's disease is an ailment of the inner ear in which a person's ear fluid pressure or how the fluid is composed causes ringing in the ear. Depression and stress have been linked to ear ringing, where no other cause can be detected. Injuries to the neck or to the head can produce a neurological problem that brings on ear ringing. A benign tumor called an acoustic neuroma can grow on the cranial nerve from the inner ear to the brain and make ear ringing possible in the ear. Rare blood vessel ailments associated with such things as high blood pressure, tumors, narrowed arteries and irregular capillaries can also cause tinnitus. Medications taken for malaria, cancer drugs, high dosages of aspirin and some antibiotics are also responsible for ear ringing in some patients.
Ear ringing that doesn't disappear on its own can be cured sometimes if a doctor can determine that the problem that is causing it is treatable. Earwax buildup in the ear can be readily removed by a physician and bring an end to tinnitus or at least make it much less noticeable. Blood vessel conditions producing ear ringing can be surgically fixed, or medications can bring the problem under control. If certain medications are the reason for ear ringing, then switching to another drug or discontinuing the medication can end the trouble.
Many instances of ear ringing cannot be cured, but the severity of the ringing can be helped by various treatments. Hearing aids can help people who have a difficult time hearing over their own ear ringing, and masking devices that closely resemble hearing aids can produce a noise that is able to suppress the ear ringing sound. White noise machines that can make sounds such as the rolling of waves in the ocean can mask tinnitus noise when trying to go to sleep. While there is no drug that is able to completely cure ear ringing, there are some that can lower the effects of the sound. Different antidepressants have been seen to do this, as have drugs such as Xanax, Niravam and Campral. These drugs, though, have been known to come with side effects, such as constipation, nausea and drowsiness.