Ear ringing myths

Ear ringing is shrouded in superstition and spiritual meaning — but the real cause of tinnitus is almost always an underlying medical condition.

The 3 key takeaways

  • Tinnitus is a symptom, not a disease — It’s often harmless, but it may be indicative of a larger health problem.
  • Tinnitus is a treatable condition, but it can’t be cured — Tinnitus can be easily managed with the help of devices like hearing aids.
  • See a doctor if you experience frequent ringing in your ears — Consulting a professional is the quickest way to address the root cause of your tinnitus.

If you’ve ever heard a mysterious ringing, buzzing, or humming sound in your ears, you’ve experienced the irritating, all too common sensation known as tinnitus. While some cases may seem relatively innocuous, more severe bouts can significantly impair a person’s quality of life.

Tinnitus distracts people from work and day-to-day conversations with their loved ones. Health experts estimate over 50 million Americans (nearly 20% of the population) are currently experiencing some form of tinnitus.

Despite being one of the most common ear problems around, tinnitus is surprisingly mischaracterized in popular culture. People have come up with different meanings for ringing in the ears since ancient times, ascribing tinnitus to everything from psychic abilities and messages to divine intuition. These stories are certainly fun, but it’s important to separate the facts from the fiction and seek the medical treatment you need to get your tinnitus under control.

 

What is tinnitus?

Many people experience tinnitus as a low pitch in one or both ears, manifesting as ringing, buzzing, hissing, chirping, whistling, or other sounds. These sounds can range in volume from barely noticeable to loud and debilitating.

While the exact cause of tinnitus is unknown, it’s most commonly a symptom brought on by an underlying medical issue. That’s why some cases of tinnitus are temporary, brought on by ailments like the common cold, while cases tied to more permanent conditions like hearing loss may persist throughout a person’s lifetime.

While there are a number of different causes of tinnitus, researchers think that the noises associated with the condition stem from a misfiring of the cells in the auditory nerve Trusted SourceNational Library of Medicinecells in the auditory nerveGo to source , which sends and receives information from the inner ear. However, over the course of human history, people have come up with some decidedly less scientific theories for what causes ringing in the ears.

The superstition surrounding ear ringing

People have described the sensation of buzzing, whispering, or “singing” in their ears for thousands of years now. Even papyrus scrolls from ancient Egypt show people complaining about tinnitus.

In all that time, a few common superstitions surrounding the condition have gained popularity. One old wives tale suggests that someone is saying good things about you if your right ear is ringing, or saying bad things about you if your left ear is ringing.

Another popular myth interprets a specifically high-pitched ringing in the ears to be a sign of good fortune on the horizon. Alternatively, there are those who believe tinnitus is the sound of the “third-eye” chakra opening up as part of a person’s spiritual awakening, or that one’s guardian angels are allowing their ears to ring to show that they are watching over them.

While these myths can be comforting, exciting, and relatively harmless, they can prevent people from getting the treatment they need to properly address their tinnitus.

5 common tinnitus myths

Aside from the mystical meanings attributed to ear ringing, there are also a number of medical myths out there regarding the meaning and treatment of tinnitus. Some misleadingly let on that buying the right oils or supplements will permanently cure the condition.

Others, like the five listed below, have gained a great deal of traction in the modern era. The good news is they’re only myths.

1. If you have ringing ears, you have a serious disease

Whether it’s ringing ears, dizziness, or general fatigue, it’s all too easy nowadays to run a quick symptom check on WebMD and immediately assume the worst. Fear not, though. We’re here to assure you that having tinnitus does not guarantee that you have a serious disease.

In rare cases, tinnitus can be triggered by life-threatening conditions like a brain tumor. Disorders that affect the arteries and blood vessels can also trigger a rhythmic, pulsating form of tinnitus that tends to match your heartbeat.

However, tinnitus is much more commonly the result of non-lethal health conditions like earwax impaction, ear infection, and upper respiratory infections like the common cold. It may also be a side effect of medications including non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), antibiotics, diuretics, chemotherapy, and antidepressants.

2. If you have tinnitus, you will lose your hearing

While many people with hearing loss also experience tinnitus, experiencing tinnitus on its own does not mean you will lose your hearing. Some cases of tinnitus are temporary, brought on by recent exposure to loud noises, upper respiratory ailments including allergies and the common cold, and as a side effect of certain medications. In these cases, tinnitus will usually go away shortly after the initial trigger is removed.

3. There is no treatment for tinnitus

This myth likely stems from the fact that chronic tinnitus has no permanent cure. While this statement in itself is true, there are still several ways to manage ongoing sounds in the ear.

Many people use devices like hearing aids and cochlear implants to mask or cancel out the tinnitus sounds they hear. Certain therapies are specifically designed to help patients ease the anxieties they have surrounding their condition and eventually become comfortable living with tinnitus.

4. Hearing aids will only make tinnitus worse

In rare instances, errors performed during hearing aid fittings can exacerbate a patient’s tinnitus. However, hearing aids are in no way considered a cause of tinnitus. Quite the opposite, actually.

Audiologists and other hearing health specialists agree that hearing aids are a highly effective treatment method for tinnitus. Prescription offerings from hearing aid manufacturers like Rexton, Signia, and Starkey are all equipped with cutting-edge tinnitus treatment programs capable of masking or canceling out tinnitus sounds to the point where they’re barely audible for the wearer.

5. Tinnitus is always permanent

While some cases of tinnitus — particularly those associated with hearing loss — may be present throughout a person’s life, some cases of tinnitus are temporary, with symptoms resolving shortly after the underlying cause is removed.

Temporary tinnitus can be brought on by loud noise exposure, blockages caused by earwax or another foreign body, ear and upper respiratory infections, and as a side effect of certain medications.

Treating tinnitus

While tinnitus can’t be cured, there are still several steps patients can take to reduce its impact on their mental and physical well-being.

The best tinnitus treatment for you will ultimately depend on the severity of the condition and its underlying cause. Treatment will be especially individualized if the tinnitus is tied to some form of hearing loss.

People whose tinnitus is caused by hearing loss often find relief after being fitted with hearing aids or cochlear implants. Since the amplification provided by these devices gives the brain sound stimulation, it becomes easier for the wearer to tune out internal sounds.

In addition, newer hearing aid models are equipped with special tinnitus masking programs that play soft background noise to mask or cancel out the sounds caused by tinnitus.

If masking and amplification are not enough to sufficiently treat a patient’s tinnitus, their audiologist may recommend further treatment in the form of cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) or tinnitus retraining therapy (TRT). CBT uses stress management techniques to ease a patient’s negative feelings around their tinnitus, while TRT uses counseling and sound therapy in the form of low-level masking devices or hearing aids to help patients with moderate to severe chronic tinnitus grow accustomed (or habituate) to their symptoms.

Experts also advise patients suffering from symptoms of tinnitus to lead a healthy lifestyle, implementing habits like healthy diet and regular exercise in their daily life to help mitigate symptoms.

👉 See a hearing care professional to determine the best treatment plan for your tinnitus.

Frequently Asked Questions

Does ringing in the ear mean someone is thinking about you?

No. The claim that someone is thinking about you when your ears are ringing is a popular myth surrounding tinnitus, but there’s no scientific evidence to back it up. Tinnitus is most commonly caused by an underlying condition like hearing loss, so make sure to see a doctor if you’re experiencing frequent ringing in your ears..

Is tinnitus a brain problem?

The exact mechanisms that trigger tinnitus are still unclear to us, but research suggests that tinnitus may be caused by changes to the networks of auditory neurons in the brain.

Who is more prone to tinnitus?

While anyone can experience tinnitus, certain groups of people are more prone to developing the condition. These include people who use tobacco and alcohol; people with health issues like obesity, high blood pressure, cardiovascular problems, and a history of arthritis or head injuries; and people who are regularly exposed to loud sounds (either through heavy equipment, chainsaws, firearms, or the use of portable music devices). Men also have an increased risk for experiencing tinnitus, as do older adults, who tend to experience age-related hearing loss as they lose the small hair cells in their ears known as nerve fibers.

What is the 60/60 rule for tinnitus?

The 60-60 rule isn’t specific to tinnitus, but a general rule to protect your ears from damage that can lead to hearing loss. The rule states that you should only turn your music to 60% of its total volume level and listen to it for no more than 60 minutes per day.

When should I be concerned about ringing in my ears?

Tinnitus is often caused by conditions that require medical attention for proper treatment, but ear ringing on its own is not usually serious. We recommend seeing a hearing specialist as soon as you notice any persistent internal sounds in your ears.