If you have tinnitus, you will hear a sound that’s not coming from the environment. People with tinnitus frequently describe it as ringing, buzzing, cricket sounds, humming and whooshing.
Verywell Health’s recent article entitled “Causes of Tinnitus or Ringing in the Ears” explains that tinnitus can be linked to anything that causes hearing loss, such as ear wax or fluid in the middle ear. However, most commonly, tinnitus is associated with inner ear hearing loss. It’s thought to be caused by inner ear cell damage. Cilia in your inner ear move in relation to the pressure of sound waves. This triggers the inner ear cells to release an electrical signal through the auditory nerve—a nerve that sends messages from your ear to your brain. Your brain interprets these signals as sound. The common causes of tinnitus are also often associated with hearing loss.
- Noise Exposure. This can damage the outer hair cells, which are part of the inner ear. These hair cells don’t grow back if they’re damaged. Even short exposure to very loud sounds, like gunfire, can be damaging to the ears and cause permanent hearing loss. Long periods of exposure to moderately loud sounds, such as factory noise or music played through earphones, can also result in just as much damage to the inner ear, with permanent hearing loss and tinnitus. Listening to moderately loud sounds for hours at a young age carries a high risk of developing hearing loss and tinnitus later in life.
- Some meds can be ototoxic (toxic to the ears or structures of hearing), and some medications list tinnitus as a side effect. If you want to know if a medication you're taking could cause tinnitus, talk to your pharmacist, or look at your medication label. Don’t stop a medication without consulting with your physician, even if you think it may be contributing to your tinnitus.
- Age-related hearing loss. Hearing loss is common with advancing age. It happens because of nerve damage.
- When too much earwax accumulates, it becomes too hard to wash away naturally. This may cause hearing loss or irritation of the eardrum and can lead to tinnitus. If earwax is removed, tinnitus will usually resolve.
Many other medical issues can contribute to tinnitus. Some can take a while to identify because they aren't common and because the signs and symptoms are not always consistent. Tinnitus is also often one of the less common symptoms.
- Meniere's Disease. This is an inner ear disorder that may be caused by abnormal inner ear fluid pressure. A feeling of ear fullness, vertigo and hearing loss are other symptoms of Meniere’s disease.
- Ear Bone Changes. Otosclerosis is the stiffening of the bones in your middle ear, which may impact your hearing and cause tinnitus.
- Temporomandibular Joint Disorders. Issues with the temporomandibular joint (TMJ, the joint on each side of your head in front of your ears, where your lower jawbone meets your skull) can cause tinnitus.
- Head injuries or neck injuries. These can affect the inner ear, auditory nerves, or the brain functions connected to hearing. These types of injuries generally cause tinnitus in only one ear.
- Acoustic Neuroma. This is a benign (noncancerous) tumor that develops on the cranial nerve that runs from your brain to your inner ear and controls balance and hearing. It’s also called vestibular schwannoma, and generally causes tinnitus in only one ear.
If you’re experiencing tinnitus, it’s important to have a complete hearing evaluation. Your audiologist and ear, nose, and throat specialist will look at underlying medical conditions that require treatment before discussing treatment options with you.
Reference: Verywell Health (March 3, 2022) “Causes of Tinnitus or Ringing in the Ears”
Suggested Key Terms: Senior Health, Tinnitus