Tinnitus – Causes

Have you ever experienced a buzzing, whistling or ringing sound in your ears that has no obvious source? If this sounds familiar then it’s likely that you had symptoms of tinnitus.

The definition of tinnitus is a sensation of noise such as a ringing that is caused by a disturbance in the auditory system and can usually only be heard by the person hearing the sounds.

Tinnitus is a fairly common problem, and for many people, it can be nothing more than mildly annoying or irritating and they are able to ignore it. But for other people, tinnitus can impact on every aspect of their lives. When symptoms are more severe, tinnitus can cause frustration, stress, confusion, depression, problems with memory, difficulty concentrating, fatigue and sleep problems.

However, while the effects can be devastating, tinnitus isn’t necessarily a sign of anything more serious. While it’s common for tinnitus to get worse as you get older, there are treatments available that can minimise your symptoms and help you learn to live with tinnitus so it doesn’t stop you enjoying your life.

What causes tinnitus in the ears?

Tinnitus causes are not always obvious, but it is often associated with:

Ear infections

A throat infection, allergy reaction or head cold can cause fluid to become trapped in the ear and cause an ear infection. A middle ear infection can sometimes cause short-term tinnitus as the increased fluid muffles sound. This can cause the brain to reinterpret sounds and result in tinnitus. This type of tinnitus should go away once the infection goes.

Ménière's disease

The endolymphatic fluid in the cochlea of the inner ear helps the hearing mechanism to function properly. Ménière's disease occurs when there is an accumulation of excess fluid, which can lead to fluctuating hearing loss, dizziness, a feeling of pressure in the ear, and tinnitus.

Age-related hearing loss

Age-related hearing loss is a common cause of tinnitus. As we get older, the number of functioning nerve fibres in our ears begins to decrease which can cause problems with hearing, and in turn trigger symptoms of tinnitus.

Exposure to loud noise

Exposure to loud noise can cause noise-induced hearing loss. Short-term exposure to loud noise can cause temporary tinnitus symptoms while long-term exposure can cause permanent damage and prolonged tinnitus symptoms.

Blood vessel disorders

In some rare cases, a blood vessel disorder can lead to tinnitus, known as pulsatile tinnitus. Pulsatile tinnitus causes include:

Earwax blockage

Earwax is essential in protecting your ear canal, but if you have too much of it, it can irritate the eardrum and cause hearing loss, which can lead to tinnitus.

Ear bone changes

Abnormal bone growth can cause the bones in the middle ear to stiffen which can affect your hearing and as a result, cause tinnitus.


Some medications cause tinnitus or can worsen symptoms, particularly when taken at a high dose. Known drugs that cause tinnitus can include certain antibiotics, cancer medications, antidepressants, and aspirin when taken in high doses.


The emergence of tinnitus in pregnancy is often linked to elevated blood pressure and hormonal changes, especially an upswing in the progesterone hormone.

For expectant mothers experiencing tinnitus symptoms, it is essential to cultivate a tranquil mindset to avoid exposing the developing fetus to unnecessary stress. Emphasizing the significance of maintaining composure is grounded in the awareness that hormonal shifts, a key factor in triggering tinnitus during pregnancy, are likely to normalize after childbirth. The subsequent paragraphs explore various causes of tinnitus during pregnancy:

Cervical problems

The causes of cervical tinnitus are diverse and linked to the susceptibility of the neck, a region commonly affected by pain. When tinnitus manifests, individuals often experience tension in the neck, stemming from the cervical spine. This tension can affect the function of cranial nerves, leading to the occurrence of ringing in the ears.

Can anxiety cause tinnitus?

Unusual ear sounds such as tinnitus can often be worsened by stress and anxiety. Your auditory system has neural connections to the part of your brain that deals with emotions. When this limbic system is very active the brain can struggle to shut down tinnitus. As the tinnitus continues it can create a vicious cycle of causing your anxiety to rise which then, in turn, increases your tinnitus symptoms.

Can bruxism and TMJ cause tinnitus?

The complex interrelation between tinnitus, TMJ disorder, and bruxism is multifaceted, with each condition influencing and exacerbating the others. Tinnitus, the perception of hearing sounds like ringing or buzzing in the ears without an external stimulus, is closely linked to both temporomandibular joint (TMJ) disorder and bruxism. TMJ disorder affects the joint connecting the jaw to the skull, while bruxism involves involuntary teeth grinding and jaw clenching. These conditions often occur together with tinnitus, presenting a complex set of challenges for both patients and healthcare professionals.

Tinnitus treatments

When it comes to how to treat tinnitus, your first step should be visiting your doctor or hearing care professional. They will be able to assess your symptoms and determine the best tinnitus treatment for you. Some treatments for tinnitus include:

  • Earwax removal
  • White noise machines
  • Hearing aids for tinnitus
  • Masking devices
  • Tinnitus retraining
  • Cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT)

If you are experiencing unusual sounds in your ears or you have any concerns about your hearing, schedule a consultation with a hearing care professional who will be able to assess you, and discuss your options.

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