When you have crackling in your ear, a condition also known as tinnitus, you experience sounds that some from within your ear. This is not a disease, but it points to another underlying problem. This is a subjective noise and it is only heard by the person suffering from tinnitus. The crackling is usually very annoying and unsettling, and you should immediately seek medical help so that you can get your normal hearing back.
Symptoms of crackling in the ear
This is a non-auditory sound that comes from within the ear and can be continuous or intermittent; it can occur in one or both ears, and can be high or low pitched. Apart from the crackling, one can hear other sounds such as whistling, hissing, and whooshing among many others.
The volume of the crackling is not always constant and will fluctuate. The sounds occur during the night, or when you are in a very quiet place. There is some level of hearing loss that comes with this condition.
Crackling in the ear can occur due to damage cause by age or exposure to very loud sounds.
Certain antibiotics, diuretics and pain medication have been known to cause damage to the inner ear leading to this condition.
The most common cause is the loss of tiny sensory hair cells found in the cochlea of the inner ear due to damage. The loss of these sensory hairs has been shown to affect how the brain processes sound, hence the crackling noise. When the brain receives sounds of a certain frequency, it adapts and changes. This condition is one way of your brain trying to fill in the sound frequencies that it can no longer process or receive from its own auditory system.
Other less common causes of crackling in the ear include:
- Ear infections
- Trauma to the head and neck
- Earwax or foreign object touching the eardrum
- Problems with the Eustachian tube found in the middle ear
- Some type of brain injury
- Cardiovascular problems
- Stiffening of the bones in the middle ear
- Temporomandibular Joint problems
There is a serious form of this condition in which you hear a sound like the heart beating. This could be due to a tumour, or abnormal connection of a vein and artery near the ear. When this happens, you should see a doctor immediately.
Treatment for crackling in the ear
Most people are able to ignore the crackling in their ears since it is not disruptive, but for others, treatment is required. The first step is to treat the underlying issue which is causing the crackling in the ear. This means treating TMJ issues, ear infections and stopping the use of some types of drugs.
Most people who experience crackling in the ear do not get treatment and simply learn how to tune out the sound. When you ignore the sound, and not focus on it, you can get a lot of relief.
If it is not possible to “tune out” the sound, you have to seek medical treatment for any of the secondary issues associated with the condition. Hearing difficulties, depression, anxiety can be caused by crackling in the ear and affect your life greatly; these should be treated so you learn to live with the condition.
There are other forms of treatment that help people with crackling in the ear:
This therapy involves the use of external noises which help in masking the crackling sound in the ear and help you learn to ignore it. White noise, specialised ear masks and low-level background music is used in this therapy. Hearing aids are the best type of therapy for this condition since they amplify external sounds and help mask the internal crackling sound.
Tinnitus Retaining Therapy
Tinnitus Retaining Therapy (TRT) incorporates the retaining of the auditory system to accept the crackling as normal and not unsettling. You have to see a trained therapist who uses ear devices to play low-level white noise. Counselling is also involved in TRT. TRT works proportionately with the level of the crackling and the mental preparedness of the patient. TRT has helped about 80 percent of those who have undergone it.
A healthy lifestyle will not stop the crackling in the ear, but it will provide a lot of emotional, spiritual, physical relief which helps reduce the intensity of the sound. You should eat healthy, exercise regularly, sleep well, stop smoking, and enjoy social and recreational activities. Stress management through relaxation techniques will also be of help in managing this unsettling condition.
Sadly, one of the most common and preventable causes of crackling in the ears is exposure to high levels of noise. It can come to people who do not wear ear plugs and mufflers when working in noisy areas such as factories. It is also common in people who always use earphones too much when listening to music on their personal devices. So be careful about how you expose your ears to noise, and you may prevent this condition from developing.