From ringing to rumbling, there are a lot of weird sounds that only your ears can hear sometimes.

Rumbling is a surprisingly common one. It’s often due to a protective effect that keeps sounds happening inside your body from being too loud to your ears. However, there are some medical conditions (usually treatable) that cause rumbling too.

Keep reading to find out more about what could be causing the rumbling in your ear, and what to do about it.

A rumbling sound in the ear can sound like rushing water or wind blowing into the ear.

A protective mechanism to avoid ear damage

Hearing a rumbling sound in your ear is often a protective mechanism by your body. Sometimes, noises can be too loud and have the potential to damage your hearing.

The ear reduces this risk by contracting muscles inside the inner ear that reduce or muffle the sounds. Doctors call these muscles the “tensor tympani.”

These muscles work to pull the malleus (a bone partially responsible for hearing) in the ear away from the eardrum. As a result, the eardrum isn’t able to vibrate as much as usual. This creates a dampening effect in the ear, which can create a rumbling sound.

You may notice this occurring when you:

  • chew
  • cough
  • yawn
  • yell

Not everyone “hears” or observes a rumbling sound when they perform these activities, but some do.

Underlying medical causes

Sometimes, there are underlying medical causes that can create a rumbling sensation in the ear. These include:

  • Ear infection. A middle ear infection or otitis media can occur when a person cannot drain fluid from their eardrum. The result can be ear pain, fever, a feeling of fullness in the ear, and problems hearing. Sometimes, these problems hearing can cause you to experience a rumbling sound in the ear.
  • Meniere’s disease. This is an inner-ear disorder that usually affects one ear and causes symptoms such as dizziness, ringing in the ear, hearing loss, and a feeling of fullness or ear congestion that may create a rumbling-type sound.

Both of these conditions are treatable.

Sometimes, the rumbling sound is one you can control. A small subset of people are able to contract the tensor tympani muscles in their ear at will.

Some people may do this without even realizing. They may find that they occasionally experience a roaring or rumbling noise and aren’t aware they are creating the effect on their own.

One way you may know you’re doing it is that you expect to hear a rumbling when you do a specific activity or when you’re thinking about your ears and the sound hits.

The ability to voluntarily contract the tensor tympani muscles may have additional benefits in addition to protecting the ear from loud inner noises. The ability to tense the muscles may also mask low-frequency sounds so a person can hear higher (and often harder to hear) high-frequency sounds that are higher in pitch.

For this reason, the ability to contract the tensor tympani muscles at will usually isn’t anything to worry about. Again, most people won’t even realize they’re doing it.

Tinnitus is a condition that causes a person to hear sounds even though there aren’t any identifiable sounds nearby. Sometimes, this sound is ringing in the ears. Other times, this sound may be:

  • chirping
  • hissing
  • roaring
  • whooshing

The degree to which tinnitus affects a person’s hearing can vary. Doctors know that some people experience tinnitus due to abnormalities in the blood vessels while others experience problems with muscles in the ears. These muscles include the tensor tympani muscles.

It’s possible the rumbling in your ears could be tinnitus. This may be true if it seems unrelated to activities like chewing or yawning.

Seeing your doctor or a hearing specialist called an audiologist can help. They can perform testing and recommend tinnitus treatments that may help the bothersome sounds go away.

Tonic tensor tympani syndrome (TTTS) is a rare form of tinnitus. It’s a form of objective tinnitus, which means that both the person with the condition and other people can hear a sound. People with TTTS just hear the sound differently.

TTTS is also a pulsatile tinnitus form, which means the condition is related to abnormalities of blood flow. People with high blood pressure, calcifications in their blood vessels, and other conditions can experience this tinnitus type.

Managing the condition depends upon potential underlying causes. An audiologist can perform specific tests or order imaging scans to see if they can identify blood vessel abnormalities that may cause the condition.

Some doctors may prescribe medications that are used to treat muscle spasms, including carbamazepine and even BOTOX injections, which may help reduce the incidence of TTTS.

Surgeries to correct an overactive tensor tympani muscle are also available to those with severe symptoms of the condition. While the condition isn’t necessarily harmful to a person or their hearing, it can dramatically affect their quality of life.

Occasional rumbling in the ears isn’t usually cause for concern. Even if the condition is a tinnitus form, the symptoms usually aren’t harmful to you physically; they just may be bothersome and anxiety-inducing.

Some symptoms for which you should see your doctor include:

  • fever that could indicate infection
  • problems with your balance
  • rumbling or ringing sounds that affect your ability to complete daily activities

If you have these symptoms, your doctor can help you determine the best course of action.

Rumbling in the ear usually has something to do with the tensor tympani muscles in the inner ear. Various conditions can affect these muscles and cause an occasional to consistent rumbling sound.

If rumbling in your ears starts to become the rule instead of an exception, it may be time to talk to a doctor.