Do you keep hearing a specific noise like ringing, buzzing or other phantom noise that nobody else around you seem to hear as well? The ringing may be constant or intermittent (it may come and go), and it is starting to interfere with your hearing of other sounds around you or it affects your concentration.

If so, you could well be suffering from tinnitus, commonly known as “ringing in the ears”. Tinnitus is a symptom of an underlying ear condition which could be caused by other issues, and it may include the following phantom noises:

  • ringing
  • buzzing
  • roaring
  • clicking
  • hissing
  • humming

You may hear the phantom noise in one or both ears. Tinnitus affects nearly 40 per cent of the world’s population, and severity has been shown to increase with age.

Senior tinnitus counsellor at Changi General Hospital, Joyce Lim, says “It appears to affect those aged 40 to 55 years most,”.

Tinnitus is defined as the prolonged damage to the delicate hairs in the inner ear. These hairs move according to sound waves and send electrical impulses (signals) through the auditory nerves to your brain, which then interprets it as sound.

All is well when the inner ear hairs are in an upright position and the electrical impulses are sent to the brain without issue. However, with age or prolonged exposure to loud sounds, the hairs become bent or broken, and they send random electrical impulses to your brain, which is basically what causes tinnitus.

It must be noted that these hairs cannot regenerate. Once damaged, the brain compensates for your lowered sense of hearing by randomly turning up the auditory system which also leads to tinnitus.


Joyce Lim went on to say other causes of the continuous ringing could be “a dysfunction of the inner ear, auditory nerve and even possibly, the central nervous system. Nerve cells in these regions are activated without a sound stimulus, giving the sufferer tinnitus.”

Common causes of tinnitus:

  • Listening to heavy metal or frequenting dance clubs or pubs where your ears are exposed to loud music can cause tinnitus.
  • Head or neck injuries can affect the inner ear, normally causing tinnitus in one ear.
  • Another form of tinnitus rarely heard about is pulsatile tinnitus which is caused by a blood vessel disorder. A combination of age and cholesterol build-up leads to major blood vessels losing elasticity. If the blood vessels are located near your ears, you will hear the blood flowing following the rhythm of your heartbeat.
  • Other possible causes of pulsatile tinnitus include head and neck tumors as well as high blood pressure.
  • Another condition that leads to tinnitus is the build up of ear wax, which then hardens and affects the actions of the inner ear hairs and irritates the eardrum.
  • Certain medications may lead to tinnitus as well, namely, antibiotics, diuretics, antidepressants, aspirin, cancer medication. Even herbal supplements have been found to cause tinnitus.

Occasional ringing in the ears

Sometime you may occasionally hear a ringing sound when you are in quiet surroundings. This is not classified as tinnitus but rather your brain automatically turning up the auditory system. The ringing sound lasts for less 5 minutes and happens only when you are in extremely quiet surroundings. If you focus on the sound, it will get louder, but this should not be a worrying factor.

Complications from Tinnitus:

Having tinnitus will affect your quality of life. You may also experience the following symptoms:

  • a sense of tiredness (fatigue)
  • an increased level of stress
  • trouble concentrating or remembering things
  • difficulty in falling asleep
  • irritability, especially so when others can’t hear what you hear

Common risk factors:

  • exposure to loud noise – loud music, loud sounds (construction, factory, musicians)
  • age – tinnitus increases with age due to thinning inner ear hairs
  • sex – tinnitus generally affects men
  • smoking
  • cardiovascular conditions

When should you seek medical advice for the ringing in your ears?

Dr David Low, consultant Head & Neck Surgeon at CGH’s Department of Otorhinolaryngology, advises that you should consult a doctor when you have tinnitus in one ear as well as giddiness, facial numbness and loss of hearing.

“If the hearing loss is sudden, see a doctor urgently. You should also see a doctor for any degree of tinnitus or hearing loss that is bothersome, and affecting your quality of life,” he said.

Take steps to safeguard your hearing from young:

One cannot go back in time to prevent hearing loss; however, one can take steps to minimize further damage and save his or her ears from near total deafness.

Simple steps like turning down the volume and using ear plugs in noisy environments, will help save your ears. A good exercise schedule and maintaining a healthy diet will prevent plaque buildup in your arteries, giving your blood vessels better circulation.

As always, seek early advice from your medical practitioner if you feel you have any ailment that needs attending to. Your medical practitioner will carry out general testing before referring you to a specialist, if need be.

By Aaron
28th May 18:55

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