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 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

Ear infections can be caused by fluid trapped in the ear caused by an allergic reaction, throat infection or head cold. This trapped fluid will often muffle sounds which the brain misinterprets and leads to short-term tinnitus. You should find that this type of tinnitus only lasts as long as the infection and once it clears up so does your tinnitus symptoms.

Ménière's disease

In the cochlear of the inner ear is the endolymphatic fluid which is essential in helping the hearing mechanism in your ear to function correctly. However, this can be disrupted by an accumulation of excess fluid which can cause Ménière's disease and symptoms that include fluctuating hearing loss, pressured feeling in the ear, dizziness and tinnitus.

Age-related hearing loss

Age-related hearing loss is a normal part of the ageing process and a common cause of tinnitus. It’s normal for your hearing to deteriorate as you get older as the functioning nerve fibres in the ears begins to decline which can affect your hearing and prompt tinnitus symptoms.

Exposure to loud noise

Noise-induced hearing loss occurs when you have been exposed to extremely loud noise. Short-term noise exposure can cause short-term symptoms of tinnitus while prolonged exposure can cause permanent damage to the ear and longer-term 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

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.

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
  • Cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT)
  • Tinnitus retraining

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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