What’s that strange noise that kind of sounds like white noise, or wind in your ears? Why can’t anyone else hear it? It’s not your imagination.
Fortunately, it’s probably not “phantom ring syndrome”, a condition where people who use cell phones excessively think they hear their phone ring, buzz or beep when no one’s there.
But it could be tinnitus. And yes, what you’re hearing is real.
You try to ignore it, but it doesn’t go away. It gets worse when the power goes out, leaving you with just the sound of your own breath…and the odd noise. If you don’t have a loud fan going at night, this white noise might even interfere with your sleep.
Trying to understand friends and family speaking at a normal volume in the same room is driving you up a wall. It’s not their fault. But it leaves you on edge and sometimes reaching for an aspirin.
You can still hear what people say. It just sounds like there’s some sound transposed on top everything you hear.
Let’s look at where this white noise came from, what it is and what you may be able to do to reduce or get rid of it.
What Is Tinnitus & Why Do I Hear This White Noise in My Head?
Tinnitus is a form of hearing loss. It’s characterized by a constant or intermittent noise that sounds like it’s on top of what you hear. Depending on the type of tinnitus you have, it may be unnoticeable most of the time. Or you may be saying, this white noise in my head feels deafening, threatening to take my sanity.
You’ve probably tried to explain to people what you’re experiencing, but this form of hearing loss is tough for people to understand. Especially if they’ve never experienced it for themselves.
How can this humming noise in my head not “be there”? Is it a hallucination? How can it keep me from understanding those around me? Or sleeping?
Tinnitus Isn’t the Same for Everyone
Not only is tinnitus hard to explain to someone who doesn’t have it, it can get complicated when you try to talk to someone who does have it. They may be experiencing very different symptoms than your own. That might lead you to think what you have isn’t tinnitus at all.
But chances are, it is.
Tinnitus takes many forms. These include but aren’t limited to hearing:
- TV static
- Dial tone
In most cases, you’re the only one who can hear it. So if you ask a doctor to confirm your symptoms, they can’t. They just have to take your word for it on this one.
This can cause people to feel invalidated by a doctor who doesn’t specialize in hearing loss.
Thomas, a steel worker told us, “When the ringing in my ears started, I talked to my primary doctor. While the doctor did state that it might be tinnitus, he didn’t really seem to understand how debilitating the noise was. He spoke about it like it wasn’t really there. He seemed to think I could just ignore it. He really didn’t offer any solutions.”
Sometimes Hearing Specialists Can Hear That Buzzing Noise Too
This is a genuine and annoying condition. In fact, in some rare instances, an hearing specialist trained to treat tinnitus can use instruments to hear what you’re hearing.
How Did I Get Tinnitus? What Caused This Humming Noise in My Head?
The most common cause of tinnitus is loud noise that you were exposed to over a period of time. It’s very common among musicians and other people who spend a lot of time around loud music.
Some professions are loud enough to lead to tinnitus such as:
- Factory Work – You’re around noisy machines all day long. That’s got to do something to your senses. On top of the noise, factory work can be stressful, another factor that leads to tinnitus and can make it worse. Do you work near a pneumatic riveter? They are some of worst, clocking in at over 125 decibels, enough to cause immediate, permanent hearing loss as well as tinnitus.
- Modern Farming – Don’t blame it on the roosters. They’re loud at around 90 decibels. But many things on the farm are much louder. Tractors, combines, cherry-pickers, milking machines… all of them make a lot of noise. Need to repair the fence? Even your table saw can pump out over 85 decibels.
- Pilot – A jet engine is a staggering 140 decibels if you’re 100 feet away. While pilots do tend to wear ear protection, they’re often right next to these engines in smaller crafts. There’s no ear protection strong enough to protect them against this constant exposure.
- Motorcycle Cop – You don’t have to be a police officer to ride a motorcycle. But any job that has you riding around on this noisy vehicle all day puts you at risk. The same goes for snowmobiles and jet skis…though chances are you’re not riding these at work.
- Bartender – A person at the end of the bar calls out for a gin and tonic. You need to be able to hear the order. But often the music in these places is so loud that you can’t hear someone right next to you.
In these instances, the tiny hairs inside the inner ear were damaged by the noise. These hairs pick up sound and help the brain understand what you’re hearing. Unlike the rest of your body, when these hairs are damaged, they don’t heal or reproduce.
This leaves you with a distorted sense of hearing.
What Makes This Strange Noise in My Head Worse?
On top of sound exposure, certain environmental and health factors can make the sounds in your ear worse.
- Anxiety and depression — They can cause a vicious cycle. As the anxiety or depression symptoms intensify, the tinnitus gets worse. As this happens, these mental health conditions worsen.
- Not Listening to Your Ears — Your ears become uncomfortable when sound is too loud. Don’t just ignore it.
- High Blood Pressure — Letting your blood pressure get out of control may cut the oxygen off to your inner ear. This may not only make it worse in the short term. It can increase the damage over time.
- Smoking — That antsy feeling that you get in between cigarettes can worsen symptoms. While the answer may seem to be have another cigarette, this is only making it worse the longer you smoke.
- Some foods — Some people find that caffeine and artificial sweeteners make tinnitus worse. Keep a food journal of everything you eat and your tinnitus level to find out which foods make yours worse.
- Some people — Being around certain people, especially people with a very negative outlook can make tinnitus worse because it triggers high blood pressure, anxiety and depression. Consider relationships that may be doing you more harm than good. Remember, you can’t change other people. But you can choose to be around them less often.
- Some women get tinnitus during pregnancy
- Deep wax build-up, pressing on the eardrum. Having that wax removed professionally could instantly stop the ringing in some cases
- Some medications — Opiates, Some antibiotics, Diuretics, Chemo and over the counter painkillers have all shown a link.
Are There Any Treatments for Tinnitus that Work?
First, if you have a condition that makes tinnitus worse like anxiety or high blood pressure, talk to your doctor about treatment for that condition.
Once any known medical condition has been treated, it’s time to look at other options. These include:
- Meditation, Yoga or other relaxing activity to reduce stress — Managing stress in a healthy way without substances isn’t something that most people learn at home or in school. But many people choose to learn because they find that these techniques work.
- Using white noise to mask the sound while you sleep — When you need immediate relief during an episode, often white noise is your best solution. Never try to drown the sound out with earbuds at high volume or other too loud noise exposure. That will only make the symptoms worse over time.
- A hearing aid, which can be set to cancel the sound — Hearing aids today have advanced features like tinnitus cancelation. They can be programmed during the hearing aid fitting to emit a sound that cancels out the specific tone you hear.
- Sound treatment, which trains your ear to ignore the sound — Sound therapists emit a sound into your ear that mimics the sound you hear. It teaches your brain to ignore the sound and focus on other sounds like voices.
- Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) — This is a technique used by mental health professionals to undo harmful habits. If you have a habit of obsessing about negative news or life events over which you may have little to no control, CBT can help you replace this habit with a focus on the positive and where you do have the power to change things. This helps reduce stress.
Most importantly, get your hearing tested. Find out how much it’s impacting your ability to understand when people speak. It may be worse than you think.
Discuss treatment options with your local hearing experts.