Hearing a ringing sound, whether constant or intermittent, can stem from numerous factors. Indeed, we all have faced, at one time or another in our lives, a sound coming from one or both ears without any external source. But what does it mean?

Tinnitus is not a medical condition in itself but rather a symptom of an underlying medical condition such as hearing loss, and as some individuals experience an extreme level of constant whistling, buzzing, chirping, hissing, humming, roaring, or even shrieking sounds, others may experience almost unnoticeable sounds. Where can we trace the underlying cause? 

Clinical literature shows sound waves travel through our ear canals to the inner and middle ears, where the hair cells present in part of the cochlea help transform these same sound waves into electrical signals that travel to the brain’s cortex. When these same hair cells are damaged—for example, by loud noise or even medication—this cycle is disrupted, which results in the illusion of sound.

Changes in the auditory system are not only related to loud noise, hearing loss, and certain medications. Some of the risk factors include:

  • Previous head injuries;
  • Ear infections;
  • Stress;
  • High blood pressure;
  • Temporomandibular joint disorder (TMJ).

Clinical studies have shown that most individuals experience subjective tinnitus, meaning that only the individual who has experienced it can hear it, although sometimes it can be objective, meaning someone else can hear it too. For example, if an individual hears the sound of their heartbeat, this condition is known as pulsatile tinnitus, and it is more noticeable at night while lying in bed. The good news is, there are several effective treatments to alleviate the effect of tinnitus, including Eye Movement Desensitization Reprocessing (EMDR) in combination with elements of cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) with eye movements or other forms of rhythmic, repetitive stimulation.

Because tinnitus can resemble phantom limb pain or trauma at the level of the auditory system of the brain, EMDR can be an extremely effective therapy as it helps the brain reprocess traumatic or distressing memories and desensitizes the individual to the anxiety associated with these traumas. The development of new neural networks where the tinnitus sound is processed can be facilitated by eye movements, tactile stimulations, and auditory stimuli that will facilitate the brain’s creation of these new pathways by activation on both the left and right sides of the brain.

Even though tinnitus does not have a complete cure, by reprocessing the trauma associated with the condition and applying cognitive behavioral therapy techniques such as cognitive restructuring and relaxation exercises such as visualization, guided imagery, autogenic training, and mindfulness, it is possible to achieve a great deal of relief from the symptoms.