ZocdocAnswersWhy do I hear ringing in my ears?

Question

Why do I hear ringing in my ears?

I'm a 23 year old female and I've been having this condition for about 6 years. It's primarily in my right ear and I can especially hear it when there's complete silence. As a kid, I had lots of ear infections but never had tubes or anything like that. I listen to music on a moderate volume, though when I was a teenager it was louder. What kind of doctor would help me with this? I currently am on no treatment for it.

Answer

You are giving the classic history for a patient with tinnitus, and, unfortunately, this is an annoying condition to have and a difficult one to treat. People with a history of damage to their ears, either from long term exposure to noise, acute trauma, or infectious processes such as ear infections are more prone to develop tinnitus, but there is no perfect solution for everyone. The condition is usually loudest when there is complete silence, because the ringing is actually the way that the brain interprets silence. People that have had loud noise for a long time or other issues with their ears will have constant firing of the nerves that bring noise to the brain, which then causes changes in their brain. When the stimulation of the nerve goes away, the brain will not know how to respond to the absence of nerve stimulation (in this case, the absence of sound), and so it will create a sound. Usually, this sound is a ringing in the ears, like what you are describing. Some of the best treatments, then, include wearing devices that constantly provide some level of white noise to the ear, or medications that help to relieve the anxiety caused by the ringing. Please see an otolaryngologist, aka Ear Nose and Throat Surgeon, for help treating this condition.

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