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Ringing in the ear is a common problem that nearly everyone experiences at least once in their life. After prolonged exposure to a loud sound, you may hear a sound like buzzing, ringing, or whistling in one or both ears.

The noise sounds either far away or it could feel like it is coming from within the body. The sound can also vary between constant or periodic. Due to the frequency and irregularity of this ringing, it is natural to have some questions about what is going on within the ear and how it relates to hearing loss.

Can Anyone Else Hear These Sounds?

The first time you hear ringing, you may assume it is an external sound everyone can hear. Unfortunately, with tinnitus (the official name for ringing in the ear), you are usually the only one who can hear the sound. For 99 percent of cases, tinnitus is considered “subjective,” meaning only the sufferer hears the sound. For the other one percent, their tinnitus is considered “objective.”

Depending on the cause of tinnitus, your doctor may hear ancillary sounds connected to the ringing such as a “heartbeat” within the ear. This is called pulsatile tinnitus and can be a sign of greater issues within the blood vessels.

Why Are My Ears Ringing?

Tinnitus is a sensorineural response within the auditory system and brain and is often a sign of hearing loss or damage to the ear. Damage generally occurs within the cochlea or hair cells that protect the ear. Sounds travel through the auditory nerve to reach the auditory cortex of the brain.

When you hear ringing within the ear that means part of this system is not working correctly. The brain does not receive the sounds it expects, which stimulates the neurons to produce or imagine false sounds. Your body finds it difficult to differentiate between false and true noises.

Will This Ringing Become Hearing Loss?

Around 200 separate diseases can cause tinnitus, and hearing loss is only one of those ailments. Many researchers find a connection between hearing loss and tinnitus because both rely on damage to the auditory system. That being said, tinnitus does not cause hearing loss in every case. That belief that tinnitus always causes hearing loss is a common misconception and one of many myths we debunk about tinnitus in another blog.

If tinnitus affects your everyday life, you should contact your audiologist or general physician. This could be a sign that you need hearing aids or additional treatment. Further damage could lead to hearing loss, so it is important to heed prevention techniques.

Will This Ringing Ever Go Away?

The answer to this depends on the cause of the ringing. If you are taking drugs or medications, stopping the dosage often stops the ringing. If the ringing is caused by one sudden sound or a loud event, hearing should return to normal over time.

If you experience ringing in the ears for more than six months, doctors label this chronic tinnitus. Up to 60 million Americans experience this ailment, and doctors continue to work on treatment methods, though there is no definitive cure. Fortunately, there are ways you can help manage symptoms of tinnitus. More importantly, remember to inform your doctor of updates on your hearing since they cannot test for tinnitus.

For more information on hearing loss, check out our comprehensive guide to hearing loss.

By: Diana Michel, Updated in 2021