Ringing, buzzing, whooshing, or clicking sounds in your ear(s) could mean a couple of things:

  1. You’ve made some interesting lifestyle choices, and/or
  2. You’ve got tinnitus, our Symptom of the Month.

Tinnitus? What’s tinnitus?

Tinnitus is the sensation of hearing certain sounds that aren’t present, according to the Mayo Clinic. That roaring, hissing, ringing noise could be caused by damage to your inner ear – or it may be caused by the hormonal changes of menopause.

There are two kinds of tinnitus: subjective, the far more common version where only the sufferer hears the noise, and objective, the very rare kind where some internal function of the sufferer’s body, like blood flow or body movement, is actually audible to others. This is also commonly accompanied by headaches.

What causes tinnitus?

Lots of loud. Remember when you trooped off to see Huey Lewis and the News’ Sports tour and your mom told you to wear ear protection or you’d regret it when you were older? No? Just me?

Mom wasn’t wrong. One of the major causes of tinnitus is long-term exposure to heavy noise. While one bout of Huey and Co. may only result in short-term tinnitus, too many high-decibel concerts, with too much loud MP3 boogie in-between, can result in permanent damage.

Ear stuff. A significant build-up of ear wax, congestion, dirt, hair, etc. can irritate the inner ear and cause that unpleasant ringing sound. Get it out quickly, if you can, as long-term irritation can make tinnitus permanent.

Age. Hearing loss is often accompanied by tinnitus, which is why it’s so common in adults over 60.

Head and neck trauma. Injuries that affect blood flow to the area or impact nerves or muscles can result in tinnitus.

[Got itchy skin? Check out this symptom of the month article on four ways to handle itchy skin.]

Other, less common causes, include TMJ, a disorder of the joint where the jaw attaches to the skull, sinus pressure, injury from barometric trauma (think SCUBA diving), brain injuries such as concussion, and certain medications.

Tinnitus can be a symptom of a more serious medical issue such as hypo- or hyperthyroidism, anemia, Lyme disease, high blood pressure, etc., so if you’re suffering, please consult with a medical professional.*

Is menopause a cause of tinnitus?

The direct cause-and-effect has yet to be established. Because both menopause and tinnitus often happen around the same age, it’s difficult to tell if one causes or worsens the other, or if they’re both just a factor of getting older.

Having said that, many women report increases and decreases in tinnitus that seem to be linked to the rise and fall of their hormone levels. Because women complain of this during pregnancy or around their menstrual periods as well as during perimenopause or menopause, it may not simply be a product of aging.

There is also some evidence to suggest that taking HRT (hormone replacement therapy) or hormonal birth control can worsen tinnitus.

[what causes and how to handle (or not, if you value your life) sore breasts]

What can I do about the ringing in my ears?

First, see a doctor to rule out more serious causes. Next …

  1. Figure out your triggers. Certain foods, caffeine, alcohol, nicotine, aspirin, salt (nooooooooo!!!) all may trigger or worsen tinnitus. Keep a journal to determine what might be causing yours.
  2. White noise. Silence makes tinnitus much more noticeable. The soothing sounds of ocean waves, a rainstorm, a fan can all help distract sufferers from the ringing in their ears. There are lots of free or low-cost apps available (personally, I’m a huge fan of SimplyRain).
  3. WebMD suggests regular exercise, but not in the 2-3 hours before bed.
  4. There are medications that help suppress the noise, if it starts to interfere with life and work.
  5. Relaxation makes tinnitus less noticeable and less impactful. Yoga, tai chi, and meditation are all good ways to reduce the stress of tinnitus.

Tinnitus is fairly common to women in their 40s, 50s, and 60s, but that doesn’t mean it’s simply a result of aging or menopause. Because there can be more serious causes, before you sign up for that tai chi class, please consult a doctor. Then sign up for the tai chi class, because it’s good for you.

If you’ve dealt with tinnitus, we’d love to hear what you did / are doing to combat the ringing. Please share with us in the comments below, on the Gennev Facebook page, or in Midlife & Menopause Solutions, our closed Facebook group!

*Thanks to American Tinnitus Association for information relating to the causes of tinnitus. This information is for education only and should not be used as a replacement for professional medical care. If your ears are ringing, go see your doc, hear me?