Naked Science Forum

Life Sciences => Physiology & Medicine => Topic started by: Ben Robertson on 21/06/2008 19:35:34

Title: Why do I periodically hear a high-pitched tone lasting a few seconds?
Post by: Ben Robertson on 21/06/2008 19:35:34
Ben Robertson asked the Naked Scientists:

Hi guys I am a new listener to the podcast and I love the show (http://www.thenakedscientists.com/HTML/podcasts/).  

I was wondering why, at what seem like random moments, I hear a high pitch tone or ringing, usually in only one ear, that take over my hearing for a few seconds and then disappears?

It comes on suddenly and then my hearing will go back to normal in 5 or 10 seconds. I am under the impression that this is somewhat normal and that others have similar experiences.

Thanks.

Ben Robertson
San Francisco CA

What do you think?
Title: Why do I periodically hear a high-pitched tone lasting a few seconds?
Post by: RD on 21/06/2008 19:45:23
Quote
Tinnitus can be perceived in one or both ears or in the head. It is usually described as a ringing noise ...
Tinnitus is not itself a disease but a symptom resulting from a range of underlying causes. Tinnitus is the ability to perceive sounds which are always present within the auditory (hearing) system. This is a failure of the compensatory mechanisms that are part of its normal function. This "phantom" sound can create distress in the sufferer. [1] Causes include ear infections, foreign objects or wax in the ear, nose allergies that prevent (or induce) fluid drain and cause wax build-up, and injury from loud noises. Tinnitus is also a side-effect of some oral medications, such as aspirin,
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tinnitus
Title: Why do I periodically hear a high-pitched tone lasting a few seconds?
Post by: chris on 22/06/2008 10:52:48
I'm not sure this is tinnitus. I've had the same thing periodically. It's an abrupt onset of a high-pitched non-machinating sound that lasts for a few seconds to minutes and seems to be on one side (affecting just one ear) at a time.

My suspicion is that it might coincide with blockage / clearance of the eustachian tube on one side because I recall a sensation of a "pop" just before this happens, when it does.

This means that it might be a pressure effect. However, this is pure speculation and I'd be really grateful if there are any ENT people here who can make some suggestions.

Chris
Title: Why do I periodically hear a high-pitched tone lasting a few seconds?
Post by: RD on 22/06/2008 11:27:51
Wouldn't ringing produced by a blockage in the eustachian only lasting seconds still be described as tinnitus ?
[I too have experienced the sypmtom Ben has described, usually resolved repeatedly pressing tragus over ear canal].
Title: Why do I periodically hear a high-pitched tone lasting a few seconds?
Post by: chris on 22/06/2008 15:23:58
Hmmm, tinnitus is usually used to mean a chronic auditory sensation, often associated with hearing loss. I'm not really sure this fits that definition to be honest.

C
Title: Re: Why do I periodically hear a high-pitched tone lasting a few seconds?
Post by: krishN on 17/09/2018 17:46:29
just faced the same in ear ... a whistle sounds for a few seconds and gone... last year it was happening at the sunset time. not regular but it happens random days. god knows what is it. some people told me that it is due to high blood pressure.
Title: Re: Why do I periodically hear a high-pitched tone lasting a few seconds?
Post by: MikeRatcliffe on 01/07/2021 22:18:43
Rapidly appearing intense but short lived tinnitus is often associated with small muscle spasms located in the middle ear space. These very tiny muscles contract and tighten the eardrum area, causing a characteristic and noticeable 'loss of hearing' just prior to the onset of fairly loud high pitched tinnitus, which gradually fades over a few seconds or at most a minute or two. These little episodes are very common and are associated with jaw or neck tension, caffeine, or sometimes head position, although they certainly can show up spontaneously without obvious cause.

Sometimes people with tinnitus worry that these short term episodes may be signs of further damage or deterioration of the auditory system, but they are actually harmless little benign events similar to a temporary twitch in a toe or finger muscle. Almost everyone experiences these transient tinnitus events and there is no clinical evidence that connects them with other more serious cases of tinnitus or hearing loss.
Title: Re: Why do I periodically hear a high-pitched tone lasting a few seconds?
Post by: evan_au on 01/07/2021 23:14:24
Tinnitus is not well understood, but theories suggest that tinnitus originates as follows:
- The brain area that normally receives, correlates and processes sound from the ear is starved of input.
- The brain then strains for input, and generates its own noises
- a bit like an amplifier that is turned up too far, causing feedback between microphone and loudspeaker

Speculation, from a signal-processing perspective: "Correlation" is often implemented with a feedback path. If you turn up the gain in a feedback path until the gain > 1, you can get self-sustaining oscillations, even in the absence of input.

So the various causes of tinnitus could all be caused by a common mechanism, whether:
- permanent destruction of hair cells in the cochlea
- or short-term effects like:
      - overload from exposure to an explosion/gunfire ("My ears were ringing...")
      - muscle spasm
      - or blockage of the eustachian tubes
Title: Re: Why do I periodically hear a high-pitched tone lasting a few seconds?
Post by: evan_au on 01/07/2021 23:24:58
PS: A prediction based on the speculation:

Speakers of Tonal languages like Mandarin or Vietnamese would perceive tinnitus differently from speakers of less-tonal languages like English (where tone just indicates things like questions) or (even more so) French.

Rationale: The brain of a French speaker is trained from the womb to listen for different correlations in speech than a Mandarin speaker. Maybe there is a reason why they call it a "mother tongue"...

But maybe ambient music introduces a degree of tonality in all societies...
Title: Re: Why do I periodically hear a high-pitched tone lasting a few seconds?
Post by: alancalverd on 02/07/2021 07:03:50
There's an old saying "When the ears ring, expect a change in the weather". Definitely a pressure effect and probably masked most of the time by real noise and other distractions, but certainly the summary of hundreds of years of "folk"  observation. It's entirely possible that one ear may be more susceptible than the other - our symmetry is far from mathematically precise - and minor infections, wax accretion and suchlike will affect the sensitivity from day to day.

The cochlea has the overall structure of a tapered Bourdon tube filled with liquid, so temporary distortions caused by external static  pressure variations may be indistinguishable from internal pressure waves.

"Objective tinnitus" is caused by a variety of internal noise sources, some of which are temporary, spasmodic, and associated with stress or lack of sleep. It produces actual pressure waves in the ear which distort the tympanum and can thus be heard from outside, though the shape and frequency are more usually described as a hum or click rather than ringing.

Title: Re: Why do I periodically hear a high-pitched tone lasting a few seconds?
Post by: Zer0 on 03/08/2021 01:44:57
Nice cause & effect explanations.
👍

But what about that hum ring or electro signal sorta sound which we can hear in both ears Anytime We Wish?

That constant veeeeeee sound in both ears, which seems like it is always present.

It's just when you focus n pay attention to it... it's audible.
Rather it is always audible.
Depends on Us.

PS - Can you raise or lower that constant tone?
It's possible.