Inside the ear is a small muscle called the tensor tympani. When this muscle is tensed, it causes a roaring or whooshing sound in the ear. Some people can contract this muscle voluntarily, causing an internal roaring sound.
Anatomy of the Ear
The middle ear is located between the eardrum and the inner ear. The tympanic cavity, or the hollow space in the middle ear, contains three tiny bones called the ossicles, which are the three smallest bones in the human body. These bones are called the malleus (hammer), incus (anvil) and stapes (stirrup).
The eardrum vibrates in response to soundwaves traveling through the ear canal. These vibrations are then sent through the ossicles and into the fluid-filled chamber within the inner ear where the waves are translated into electrical energy that is interpreted by the brain as sound.
The muscles of the middle ear regulate the movement of the ossicles. When a very loud sound travels through the ear, the muscles contract to reduce the vibration and protect the sensitive hair cells within the inner ear. This process is known as acoustic reflex. The tensor tympani muscle is attached to the malleus, and its job is to pull the malleus away from the eardrum during acoustic reflex.
What Else Does the Tensor Tympani Do?
In addition to protecting your ears from very loud sounds, the tensor tympani masks low-frequency sounds so we can better hear important high-frequency sounds like speech. It also contracts in response to self-generating sounds such as speaking, yawning, coughing and chewing.
What Causes the Roaring Sound?
When your tensor tympani contracts, what you hear is the sound of the muscle itself. The effect is similar to when you cover your ears with your hands or hold a seashell up to your ear.
While the tensor tympani contracts reflexively, certain people can contract it at-will. In fact, there was a 2013 case report of a man who went to his doctor complaining about tinnitus, only to find out he was voluntarily contracting both tensor tympani muscles.
For more information about the anatomy of the ear or to schedule an appointment, contact the experts at Hampton Roads ENT.