Have you ever heard a sound that no one else hears? You are not alone. There are many sounds that can be heard in the ears or head. Some are benign. Others may be need to be evaluated. All can be concerning if you have never experienced a sound no one else hears.
One category of sounds in the ear is tinnitus. Tinnitus is very common. It affects almost one in five people. It becomes more prevalent the older you are. It is associated with both hearing loss and acoustic trauma. It may sound like buzzing, humming, whistling, birds, insects, etc. Although it is often perceived in the ear, current science suggests it is generated in the central nervous system.
In healthy ears, hearing cells within the inner are connected to nerves that transmit sound from the ear to the brain. Although hearing cells are destroyed with hearing loss, the nerves deeper in the brain are not always lost. These nerves no longer receive stimulation, and begin to create signals on their own. Because these signals are not generated from the outside world, we perceive sound that no one else does.
Tinnitus, therefore, is a sign that hearing loss has occurred. It often occurs after a loud concert, sports event, or work experience. Tinnitus that occurs in only one ear or occurs with episodes of dizziness is more concerning than tinnitus that occurs in both ears over many years.
Some tinnitus sounds like whooshing and occurs with your heart beat. This is called pulsatile tinnitus. Normally our ear is protected from hearing internal blood flow. Medical conditions may decrease the shielding of our ear from internal sounds. Hearing your pulse only on your pillow, however, is not abnormal.
Wax or fluid in the ear may increase the resonance of blood flow making it audible. Weight loss may leave the Eustachian tube stuck open causing audible breathing sounds and heart sounds. Hernia of the brain into the ear also causes awareness of one’s heartbeat.
Other conditions increase the blood flow above normal levels. Head trauma may result in aneurysm or fistula of blood vessels near the ear. Vascular tumors may increase blood flow around the ear. Anemia and dehydration increase the force of the heartbeat resulting in pulsatile tinnitus. Some medications may increase brain pressure and cause pulsatile tinnitus.
A rare cause of thumping sound in the ear is muscle twitching. Muscles attached to the hearing bones or the Eustachian tube will make a thump when they contract. Just like a muscle twitch can occur in the eye lid, a muscle twitch of these muscles can occur and will cause a rapid thumping sound.
Crackling or popping is normal to occur with chewing, swallowing, or yawning. Excessive crackling or popping may be due to a Eustachian tube that is stuck closed.
Noisy ears associated with hearing loss or dizziness should be evaluated. Pulsations that are persistent should also be evaluated. At the Dallas Ear Institute, there are professionals to help you know more about the sounds your ear is making. Call (972) 566-7600 to schedule an appointment.