A Moment of Science

What Causes The Ringing In Your Ears?

Well, for one thing, the problem goes deeper than just your ears.

ear with ear bud in it

Photo: Bram Cymet (flickr)

Loud noises can damage the ear's nerve hairs, causing tinnitus.

The ringing in your ears is a medical problem known as tinnitus. While this may be a very common medical problem, it still continues to stump doctors. This can be a serious problem for some.

5-15 % of people say that the ringing in their ears has persisted for over six months! Image how disruptive this could be to their daily lives.

What Triggers It?

Current treatments, like lidocaine, are somewhat helpful, but they aren’t consistent. Doctors are discovering that this is because the problem may go much deeper than ringing in the ear drums. It may actually be a ringing across your brain!

Loud noises, toxic drugs, and sometimes whiplash damage the nerve hairs in the ears. These are responsible for sending electric signals along the auditory nerve to the brain. When they are damaged, they can no longer send these signals. So what happens then?

Mind Sweep

The auditory region of the brain is no longer getting incoming signals. The brain’s neurons actually go through a transformation process. The neurons start picking up frequencies from their surrounding neighbors and create a sort of loop of signaling. It’s this loop that produces that constant ringing sound.

Even if the auditory nerve was surgically cut, the patient would still hear this ringing! Not only that, but this ringing occurs across the entire brain, not just the auditory cortex.

Treatments are used to help different parts of the problem, but because it is affecting the entire brain, finding an overall cure is a challenge medicine has not yet been able to conquer.

So turn down your iPods and take care of your ears!

Read More

  • The Brain: “Ringing in the Ears” Actually Goes Much Deeper Than That (Discover)
  • Tinnitus: The Annoying Ringing or Buzzing in Your Ear (A Moment of Science)

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Molly Plunkett

is a journalism student at Indiana University and an online producer for A Moment of Science. She is originally from Wheaton, IL.

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