Your sense of hearing is a basic biological function. We use our ears not only for listening to the world around us, but they also help our sense of balance. Problems with your ears can range from mildly painful to extreme disturbances that affect your quality of life.
Some people hear noises from the ear itself. It could be a ringing sound, a whooshing noise, or a suspicious rumble. Rumbling in the ear is less common than other sounds and could stem from a few different causes.
Are Noises in the Ear Normal?
You might hear noises in your ear after you experience loud sounds. Concerts, sports games, or even a low-flying aircraft could cause you to temporarily hear a ringing or buzzing sound in your ear.
In most cases it’s a normal effect of hearing loud sounds that will go away quickly. But hearing noises in your ears all the time is not normal.
What Causes Rumbling in the Ear?
A rumbling sound in the ears could be described as air passing through the ear that muffles your hearing. Rumbling can be your body’s response in preparation for loud noises. It’s caused by a small muscle located in the middle ear called the tensor tympani (TT).
The TT muscle tightens, or contracts, after you hear a very loud sound. This contraction muffles the loud sounds, produces a low rumble, and can protect the inner ear from damage. The TT can also contract when you yawn or chew food loudly.
Most of the time, this contraction isn’t consciously performed. There is a very small percentage of people who are able to do it on command.
Ear infection. An infection in the middle ear can be very painful. Your ear can become very sensitive when touched. It can also cause you to hear things differently. An ear infection might cause you to hear a rumbling sound in your ears.
Ménière's disease. Ménière's disease affects the inner and middle ear. It’s a condition that can cause a range of symptoms that affect your everyday life. It’s characterized by sounds in the ear, loss of hearing, and sudden loss of balance and dizziness ( vertigo). People who suffer from Ménière's disease hear a roaring or rumbling and experience a feeling of fullness in the ear.
Tinnitus is a more common condition that affects hearing. It’s not a disease, but rather a symptom with an underlying cause. There are two types of tinnitus: subjective and objective.
Subjective tinnitus is when you hear sounds that aren’t there. It’s often due to an issue with the nerves in your ears. It’s the more common variation of the two. Objective tinnitus happens when you can hear small sounds that come from your body or ear, like blood pumping through vessels.
Not everyone who has tinnitus hears the same sounds. You can hear clicking, blowing, ringing, or hissing in your ear. The pitch of the sounds can change too.
There are several things that can contribute to the development of tinnitus:
- Prolonged exposure to loud noise
- Old age
- Ear infections
- Ménière's disease
- Malfunction of the eustachian tube inside the ear
- Certain medications like antibiotics, non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs ( NSAIDS), antidepressants, or cancer medications
- Depression or anxiety
Men are more likely to develop tinnitus than women. Talking to your doctor can help you find out the underlying cause of tinnitus. Causes could be as simple as removing excess earwax. Other times you may need to switch your medication or use a hearing aid.
When to See a Doctor
If you’re experiencing persistent rumbling in your ear — or any other sound that is affecting your life — you should speak to a doctor. You should seek immediate medical attention if you have a high fever or experience any fluid or discharge coming out of your ear.
Your doctor will ask you a series of questions aimed at finding out the cause of the sounds and any underlying reasons why you might be experiencing them. They’ll ask you about any medications you’re taking or pain you might have.
They might also recommend some tests to investigate further:
- Hearing test
- Computed tomography (CT) scan
- Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scan
- Blood vessel study
Imaging tests like MRI and CT scans can be very useful. They provide your doctor with a picture of what’s happening inside your ear. In some cases, your doctor might refer you to an ear, nose, and throat (ENT) specialist for treatment.