If you can hear a strange ringing, buzzing, chirping or whistling sound in one or both of your ears, you could have tinnitus.

The definition of tinnitus is a sensation of noise such as a ringing that is typically caused by a bodily condition such as a disturbance of the auditory system and is usually only heard by the person affected.

Tinnitus is a fairly common problem and in most cases, it is just mildly irritating. However, for some people, tinnitus can be so severe it can cause frustration, confusion, stress, depression, irritability, trouble concentrating, fatigue, sleep problems, and even memory problems.

While tinnitus doesn’t have to be a sign that something more serious is wrong, symptoms can get worse as you get older. Fortunately, there are treatments available that provide effective relief from tinnitus by either treating the underlying cause or reducing or masking the sounds so the tinnitus is far less noticeable.

What causes tinnitus in the ears?

Tinnitus causes are not always clear, but it can often be linked with:

Ear infections

Ear infections can be caused by a cold, throat infection or allergies and this causes fluid to become trapped in the ear and lead to an ear infection. If the middle ear is infected then this can cause temporary tinnitus, as the increased fluid muffles sound and the brain reinterprets the sounds which lead to tinnitus. Once the infection goes away then the tinnitus should resolve itself.

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 fibers 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:

  • Head and neck tumors
  • High blood pressure
  • Turbulent blood flow
  • Malformation of capillaries

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.

Medications

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.

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 also cause your stress and anxiety to rise which then in turn increases your tinnitus symptoms.

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:

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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