There are a number of causes of tinnitus including medical conditions, noise exposure or a build-up of earwax.
Tinnitus is often associated with hearing loss. As your ears age or are exposed to noise, the delicate hair cells in your inner ear can become damaged, affecting how sound is transported to your brain. The hair cells are responsible for detecting the signal and passing it to the nerve, while the auditory nerve and auditory pathway are responsible for transmitting the sound to the brain. If the hair cells inside your inner ear aren't working as they should, there is a reduction in sound travelling to your brain.
However, there are many other factors that also cause tinnitus. We’ve outlined some of the common causes of tinnitus as well as a few rarer occurrences, which can help you to take appropriate precautions in situations that may affect your hearing.
Exposure to loud noise
If you regularly use heavy machinery, listen to music at loud volumes or operate firearms, you may experience tinnitus. While short-term exposure (such as attending a concert) may have temporary effects, long-term use without appropriate ear protection can cause permanent hearing loss.
This is the medical term for a stiffening of bones in the ear. Otosclerosis is an abnormal bone growth condition, normally passed down through genetics. This condition can cause partial deafness as well as tinnitus.
Ear wax build-up
Although a healthy level of ear wax can help protect your ear canal from unwanted bacteria, compacted or excessive wax can lead to hearing loss or tinnitus. If you experience noticeably high wax levels, you should make an appointment with your local doctor or ear nurse to have them professionally cleaned on a regular basis.
As well as these three common causes, tinnitus can also be the result of:
- Middle ear infection - An earache-causing condition that often affects hearing
- Meniere's disease - A condition that causes abnormal fluid pressure to develop in the inner ear
- High blood pressure - This may result in a pulse-like tinnitus
- A perforated eardrum - A tear in the eardrum that prevents hearing and makes you susceptible to infections
- Hyperthyroidism - An overactive thyroid gland
- Adverse reaction to medication - When consumed in quantities that exceed the recommended dosage. Examples include antibiotics, diuretics and aspirin
- Solvent, drug or alcohol use
- Conditions affecting the acoustic nerve
In some less common cases when tinnitus affects one ear or is much louder in one ear than the other, a medical examination, preferably with an Ear Nose and Throat (ENT) Specialist, is necessary to understand whether it’s being caused by a condition requiring medical or surgical treatment.