Why do I periodically hear a high-pitched tone lasting a few seconds?

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Ben Robertson

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Ben Robertson asked the Naked Scientists:

Hi guys I am a new listener to the podcast and I love the show.  

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?

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Offline RD

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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
« Last Edit: 21/06/2008 21:40:08 by RD »

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Offline chris

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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
I never forget a face, but in your case I'll make an exception - Groucho Marx

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Offline RD

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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].

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Offline chris

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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
I never forget a face, but in your case I'll make an exception - Groucho Marx