Tinnitus – Causes

If you experience a buzzing, roaring, chirping, whistling or ringing sound in your ears, then it’s likely you 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 it can usually only be heard by the one affected. It’s a common problem that affects up to 20% of the population.

For many people, tinnitus can simply be an irritation that they can ignore. However, for others, it can cause stress, frustration, depression, irritability, memory problems, trouble concentrating, sleep problems, and fatigue. Tinnitus isn’t necessarily the sign of anything serious, but it can worsen with age. There are several treatments available that can help improve tinnitus by treating the underlying cause or reducing or masking the noise so the tinnitus is less noticeable.

What causes tinnitus in the ears?

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

Ear infections

A throat infection, allergy attack or 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, and it 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.


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.

Cervical spine dysfunction

The cervical spine encases the vertebral arteries, which provide blood to parts of the brain and inner ear, and houses cervical nerves that interact with the auditory system's nerves. Cervical spine dysfunction, including misalignment or nerve compression, can potentially impact auditory function and contribute to tinnitus.

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, especially if you are experiencing tinnitus in specific situations, such as pregnancy. 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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