Tinnitus – Causes

If you can hear a strange ringing, buzzing or roaring sound in your ears that doesn’t seem to be coming from anywhere, you probably have tinnitus. 

The definition of tinnitus is an awareness of noise such as a ringing or whistling that occurs as a result of a disturbance in the auditory system, and is usually only heard by the person who is affected.

Tinnitus is a common problem that many people will experience at some point in their lives. For some, it can be nothing more than an irritation that they can ignore. However, for other people, it can be far more distressing. Tinnitus can cause feelings of frustration, confusion, anxiety, depression, fatigue, irritability and cause problems with concentration and sleep.

While the impact of tinnitus can be serious, it isn’t usually a sign that there is anything serious. However, you can expect it to get worse as you get older. Fortunately, there are treatments available that are effective in reducing tinnitus symptoms or masking the sounds so the tinnitus is less noticeable and doesn’t have such an impact on your quality of life.

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, 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:

  • Head and neck tumours
  • 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

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.



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:

  • 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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