What Causes Tinnitus?

Table of Contents

What Is Tinnitus Caused By?

Tinnitus is pretty common, with nearly 25 million Americans experiencing lasting tinnitus for at least five minutes in the past year. According to a 2015 study:

The overall weighted prevalence for any tinnitus was 6.0% in the total New Zealand population age ≥ 14 years.

The New Zealand Medical Journal

Despite its commonality, the precise cause of tinnitus remains unknown.

Notwithstanding advances in modern medicine, we’re still learning about what causes tinnitus. It can be hard to research tinnitus and develop new treatments because tinnitus remains a scientific and clinical enigma.

Although precisely what causes tinnitus remains unknown, we’re constantly learning more about triggers and contributing factors.

Tinnitus contributing factors include those that directly affect your ears or hearing, underlying medical conditions, or even common substances.

4 Conditions of the Ear That May Trigger Tinnitus

The most common underlying condition related to tinnitus is age-related hearing loss. Most people’s hearing worsens with age as the number of functioning nerve fibres in our ears declines. Tinnitus can also be triggered by:

1. Loud Noise

If you’ve ever watched your favourite band play live, you probably left with a short-lived episode of tinnitus. People who are regularly exposed to loud noises, such as musicians or construction workers, are at greater risk of developing tinnitus. Over time, loud noise damages the tiny hairs in your ears that send messages to your brain.

2. Earwax

It usually does a vital job in keeping our ears healthy, but earwax can build up and block your ear canal and irritate your eardrum, causing temporary hearing loss and tinnitus.

3. A Perforated Eardrum

A perforated eardrum is a hole or tear in the eardrum and may trigger tinnitus.

There are many causes of a perforated eardrum, including an infection like otitis media, a sudden loud noise like an explosion, or trauma such as a direct blow to the head or ear, changes in air pressure while flying, or an injury during surgery.

4. Eustachian Tube Dysfunction

Eustachian tubes can become inflamed and swollen because of a cold, sore throat, sinusitis, hayfever, allergies, deviated nasal septum or nasal polyps. As a result of inflammation and swelling, the tubes may become blocked, which is called Eustachian tube dysfunction.

Medicines and Other Substances That May Trigger Tinnitus

Some everyday substances and medicines may have a side-effect of triggering or worsening tinnitus. Usually, this goes away when you stop taking the medication or cut down on the substance.

  • nicotine, caffeine and alcohol
  • some antibiotics
  • some cancer medications
  • high-dose aspirin
  • quinine (often used for malaria)
  • some diuretics (used to treat water retention).

4 Underlying Medical Conditions That May Trigger Tinnitus

Your body’s systems are interwoven and delicately balanced. A health condition that primarily affects one part of your body may have surprising knock-on effects including tinnitus. Conditions that are linked to tinnitus include:

1. Disorders of the Jaw Joint

Disorders of the temporomandibular joint can trigger tinnitus. This joint is where your lower jawbone connects with your skull just in front of your ears on either side of your head.

2. Cardiovascular Diseases

Cardiovascular diseases that may trigger tinnitus through disrupting blood flow include high blood pressure, atherosclerosis, heart disease, and malformations of the small arteries.

3. Neurological Disorders

Neurological disorders known to trigger tinnitus include Meniere’s disease, multiple sclerosis or migraine headaches.

4. Stress

This may be present at the onset of tinnitus and may also worsen existing tinnitus.

Author Bio

Ron Trounson
Ron Trounson
Ron Trounson holds a Master of Audiology (with Distinction) from the University of Canterbury. He has been in the hearing industry since 2010 and has a broad knowledge of ear disorders, hearing loss, hearing aids and specialised hearing devices.

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