Help identifying mystery sound
February 25, 2014 4:50 AM   Subscribe

I have been hearing a sound in my ears for the past few years, which is definitely not tinnitus or blood flow. Can anybody give me any ideas as to what might be its cause?

The sound is an instantaneous "zip" at quite a high pitch. I most liken the sound to that of turning on a CRT monitor, though even quicker; it has the same kind of "crackling". It is only a little similar to the sound of blood flow, being heard in the same way, but fantastically faster.

I hear the sounds most when I am lying down, though they can happen at any time. Typically there will be one to four such sounds in as little as a second, with then a gap until the next lot. At their most often there will be tens of them in a minute.

The sounds are not painful, but have grown annoying over the two or so years I have heard them. They also seem to be associated with a slight lightheadedness, but nothing serious. I have not seen a doctor as I fear it would be too vague a presentation. This is not tinnitus or blood flow, and my hearing is otherwise almost 100%.

Can anybody come up with ideas of what the sounds might be, or experience of having similar sounds in the ears? I'm really at a loss of otherwise how to proceed with this mystery problem.
posted by Thing to Health & Fitness (9 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
My first guess would be a plug of wax embedded into your ear canals. (I am assuming you are "hearing" this is both ears). I'd go see an otolaryngologist a let them have a look. Two years is a long time to let a problem go unattended to.
posted by bkeene12 at 4:56 AM on February 25, 2014 [1 favorite]

This sound can be called crepitus. When I have it, it's caused by swelling in and around my Eustachian tubes and tympanum due to allergies. I don't always get standard allergy symptoms; it's often just that obnoxious sound. Try some Zyrtec or ask your doc about a nasal spray. They relieve ear congestion, too.
posted by headspace at 4:57 AM on February 25, 2014

This has happened to me, and it was a (huge freaking) plug of wax. It quickly evolved into severe pain, though. Get thyself to see a doctor. Mine simply blew it out with water, and the feeling of hearing again was awesome.
posted by ddaavviidd at 5:17 AM on February 25, 2014 [2 favorites]

I haven't considered earwax for my hearing seems to be unaffected and I have no pain.
posted by Thing at 5:19 AM on February 25, 2014

I am very sensitive to pressure changes and get lightly plugged sinuses all the time. What you explain is very much what I experience. Sharp little points of sound not unlike a CRT monitor. I'd go to a doctor but I'll lightly second allergy meds.... But still, ya know... Doctor.
posted by chasles at 5:30 AM on February 25, 2014

In my experience, if it is a wax issue, you may think your hearing is unaffected since the wax can build up so slowly that you'll be unable to detect the very gradual loss of hearing. But when they flush your ears you won't believe how much better you'll be able to hear.
posted by Falwless at 5:33 AM on February 25, 2014 [2 favorites]

You can get pretty sizable chunks of wax buildup without any symptoms. I wouldn't rule it out.
posted by Metroid Baby at 5:49 AM on February 25, 2014

I've just come back from the doctor to check out the possibility of earwax, and she said there was none. However...I somehow have a hole in my left eardrum, which was unexpected. She guesses it might be the cause and has sent me to see an ENT.

So thanks at least for getting me off my bottom and to see a doctor.
posted by Thing at 8:46 AM on February 25, 2014 [2 favorites]

I would probably be surprised if the sound was caused by the perforation in your tympanic membrane, though I suppose it's not impossible. It is strange that you would have no other symptoms - trouble hearing, infection, effusion - with the eardrum hole, especially if you've had it for any length of time. It would be very rare to have a hole for years in your eardrum, as usually perforations heal or scar over. The other question would be: how did you get a hole in your eardrum? Have you had infection? Chronic eustachian tube issues? Hit hard on that side of the head? Do you use q-tips?

Make sure to tell the ENT that is sometimes accompanies light headedness, only because you want to rule out something like a cholesteatoma, which can happen if you've had a perforated ear drum for a long time, and which could also account for the sounds you hear, but still seems unlikely given the absence of other symptoms.

It is possible, perhaps even likely, that the sounds you're hearing are in fact tinnitus. Tinnitus is very common and comes in all sorts of sound and sensation types. Tinnitus is really any sound you hear in the ear that is not from an external source. It isn't just ringing.

posted by Lutoslawski at 11:17 AM on February 25, 2014 [1 favorite]

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