Ringing in the ears

OK, what’s with the story that when you get ringing in your ears after a loud noise you’re hearing that particular frequency for the last time in your life? Where did this story come from?

I’m not sure where it originated, but I recall it was used as a minor plot device in a movie. (I can’t for the life of me recall which one, which probably means it wasn’t a very good movie.) The ringing phenomenon is called tinitis, but it isn’t a case of never being able to hear a particular frequency again.

Maybe not, but if you have permanent tinnitus, unless the medical personnel at Harvard were getting their jollies by lying to me (perhaps a possibility we shouldn’t entirely discount), it does affect your hearing on that pitch.

I have chronic tinnitus, and hearing tests subsequent to the injury that apparently caused it showed that while overall my hearing was excellent, it was not so good on one pitch in the ear with tinnitus. The Harvard docs said it was doubtless the tinnitus pitch that I couldn’t hear.

Does sound kinda stupid, though, in a way.

Y’know that ringing in your ears? That ‘eeeeeeeeee’? That’s the sound of the ear cells dying, like their swan song. Once it’s gone you’ll never hear that frequency again. Enjoy it while it lasts. (From Children of Men)

I’ve had a ringing in my left ear since the 80s, after surfacing too quickly while scuba diving (don’t do that!). While I can still hear sound at normal volume in that ear, the whole upper end of the frequency spectrum is gone, so if I cover my good ear the word ‘sister’ sounds like ‘thithter’. At the time they told me there are several chambers in the inner ear, and the one in mine that holds the cells that detect the highest frequencies had been ruptured (didn’t hurt a bit) and would never recover - and it hasn’t.

The thin is, that ringing never stops, though I got used to it. So while I can’t hear sounds of the highest frequencies in that ear, I do hear a constant squeal like a jet engine. Apparently (correct me if I’m wrong here) the living hair cells send a constant signal which the brain interprets as silence; when they are stimulated they cease sending the signal, and it’s the lack of that microvoltage that the brain interprets as a frequency of sound. Sounds counterintuitive, but it would explain why damaged or dead cells, which can no longer send their signal, would cause the brain to ‘hear’ a tone.

I’m hoping someday they’ll figure out a way to plant a small battery in me that will stimulate my aural nerve. It would not restore my hearing, but it might cause that constant squeal to go away.

flyby, thanks for those details! Sounds very similar to what’s going on with me, although the docs didn’t bother to explain it the way you have. (In my case I was in a small plane that did a very sudden altitude drop.)

You have it right. My tinnitus was evaluated at the Harvard Massachusetts Eye and Ear Infirmary by Dr. Robert A. Levine, one of the world’s leading tinnitus research physicians, and that is how he described it to me. The “sound” is generated in your brain, not in your ear. It is, at this time, incurable.

I have it in both ears. It sucks.

In fact, I went to an audiologist and ENT yesterday. Mild to Moderate hearing loss.

I’m getting an MRI tomorrow to make sure it’s not caused by a tumor in my middle ear area. That’s very rare.