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believe it or not I have the same thing! It has been going on for like five years now, and at times it drives me crazy. It has even woken me up in the middle of the night. It sounds a lot like what you describe, although for me it was the sound you hear if you are taking a bubble bath and get some of the bubbles in your ears. I call it a 'scritching' noise, as this is what it sounds like to me; 'scritch, scritch'. It is absolutely maddening. I have a swimming pool and spend a lot of time swimming and thought maybe I had water in my ear as well. I have spoken to several of the doctors I've worked with, and had them look in my ear to see if there is anything obvious. They all tell me the same thing, that I am suffering from tinnitus. This is a condition that can cause ringing, hissing, buzzing and other noises in the ear. There is a long list of things that might cause tinnitus including; damage to your auditory cells, certain medications, changes in the bones of your ears, a build up of ear wax, even high blood pressure.
A word of caution (actually several words!): At Thanksgiving I was at my in-laws house and after dinner I complained about the noise. My mother-in-law brought out an earwax candle. I had never seen anything like it, but decided to give it a try. This was a really long, cone shaped candle. She punched a hole in a pie tin and put the tapered end of the candle through the tin. I laid my head on the table and she put the end of the candle in my ear, with the pie tin resting against the side of my head (to protect my skin and hair) and lit the other end of the candle. We drew quite a crowd, and I have to admit I felt like quite an idiot sitting there with a flaming candle sticking out of my ear! I could also see the potential for danger if this wasn't done with quite a bit of care. I have waist length hair and I had visions of it going up in a giant 'poof' of flames. I was also worried that hot wax would drip inside my ear and damage my eardrum. Still, I sat there with my head on the table while she held the candle as it burned. It took quite awhile, and when the candle had burned down pretty close to the tin, she blew it out. This candle was made out of some type of rolled wax, so she unrolled it and showed me what was inside. Everyone there was amazed (and fairly disgusted) to see all of the 'ear wax' that had been drawn up into the candle. The theory is that the heat melts the wax and it also creates some type of suction that draws the wax from your ear up into the candle. Now, being a nurse made me fairly skeptical to begin with, I mean after all, how did they know that what we were seeing inside the candle was ear wax? And how could a candle with a large hole on the end create that type of suction? So, I went home and did some research on it, and I agree with the experts on this one, it's not such a good idea.
Earwax (called cerumen) is a normal, healthy part of your ear, and is there for a good reason. It is a defense against infection and removing it takes away that line of defense. As cerumen forms close to the eardrum it is soft and has no color or odor. The natural movements of the lower jaw move it toward the outer ear, where it becomes less fluid and starts to have an odor. Using Q-tips incorrectly (putting them into the ear canal) pushes the cerumen further into the ear. The cerumen that is pushed back into the ear is too hard for this natural process to move it back out, and this is why the impaction occurs. Continually removing it can contribute to these impactions, and they are the leading cause of impaired hearing. The impaction itself can be another cause of tinnitus.
There are a lot of 'cures' out there, and you could spend thousands of dollars on items like the candles described above trying to cure this. As far as I know there currently is no medically recognized cure for tinnitus. I would suggest that you go see an ear, nose, and throat specialist to see if this is indeed tinnitus. From there you can follow your doctor's advice and see if there is anything to be done to help give you some relief.
The American Tinnitus Association states on their website that over 50 million Americans have experienced tinnitus. Of that 50 million, twelve million have seen a doctor because of their tinnitus. They further state that two million people have tinnitus that is so severe that they cannot function on a normal daily basis. I know that for me it comes and goes. When it wakes me up and keeps me up all night I find it frightening and depressing, but since this only happens occasionally it is just something I have learned to live with. Hopefully your problem will remain more of a nuisance than anything.
I hope this answer is helpful to you.
Teague J. Parker RN