What Causes Tinnitus?

tinnitus

If you experience tinnitus, you may be wondering why it happens. Read below to learn about the common causes of tinnitus.

What Causes Tinnitus?

February 2021, 12th

Tinnitus is the perception of sound when there is no external sound source in the environment. For a more in depth explanation of what tinnitus is, click here.

Tinnitus is not a disease itself, but is usually a symptom of another underlying health condition, such as damage to the auditory system or problems with blood flow in the head and neck. Most commonly, tinnitus occurs when someone has hearing loss.

There are two types of tinnitus:

Objective Tinnitus

Objective tinnitus is rare and occurs when there are vascular (blood flow) abnormalities in the head and neck. Interestingly, this type of tinnitus is observable by other people, meaning that when health professionals use special tools, they are able to hear it too! Some people might experience pulsatile tinnitus, which occurs when a person has an awareness of their own blood flow. Depending on its cause, objective tinnitus is sometimes curable. If you have pulsatile tinnitus, it is important to get a medical assessment.

Subjective Tinnitus

Subjective tinnitus is the most common type of tinnitus and is unfortunately not curable. Researchers are still establishing how this type of tinnitus occurs. However, it’s very likely that hearing loss plays a role in how it develops. When hearing loss occurs, there are less sound signals sent to the auditory nerve and brain. This means that the nerves from the ear to the brain fire, even when there is no sound, causing the perception of sound. In this way, tinnitus is sometimes likened to a ‘phantom’ noises produced by the auditory nerve.

Common Causes of Subjective Tinnitus

Hearing Loss

Tinnitus is very common among those with sensorineural hearing loss. Sensorineural hearing loss happens when there is permanent damage to the inner ear (cochlea). A range of things can damage these hair cells, but it is most often due to ageing and/or excessive noise exposure.

The older you become, the more likely you are to have hearing loss and therefore experience tinnitus. This typically happens with normal wear and tear to the auditory system over time as hair cells in the inner ear become damaged and less functional.

Exposure to loud sound, especially over a long period of time without the use of hearing protection (e.g. earplugs) is linked to the onset of tinnitus. Loud noises can permanently damage the hair cells of the inner ear, resulting in hearing loss and tinnitus.

Noise Induced hearing loss

To prevent hearing loss and the development of chronic tinnitus, it is vital that you protect your ears from loud noise. Prioritise using hearing protection such as earmuffs or earplugs when in noisy environments, and limit your exposure to loud music where possible by turning down the volume or reducing the length of time you are exposed.

For more discussion about tinnitus and hearing loss, visit our blog.

Health Conditions

Many other health conditions that can trigger tinnitus. These may include:

  • Head injuries
  • Impacted earwax
  • Physical injuries to the ears or neck (e.g. burst eardrum)
  • Damage to structures of the middle ear
  • Frequent ear infections
  • Use of ototoxic medications (e.g. chemotherapy drugs, diuretics, certain antibiotics)
  • Hearing disorders/hearing-related health conditions (e.g. Meniere’s disease, otosclerosis)
  • Acoustic neuroma (mass on the auditory nerve)
  • TMJ (temporomandibular joint) disorders

Seeking Help

If your tinnitus is chronic, affects your quality of life or causes you distress, don’t hesitate to seek help. You can consult a healthcare professional, such as a medical doctor or an audiologist.

While tinnitus is often harmless to your health, it is important to rule out any underlying health conditions that may be trigerring it. Your doctor may refer you for a hearing test with an audiologist, or recommend a visit to an otolaryngologist (specialist ear, nose, and throat doctor) for assessment.

For some people, tinnitus is more than a mild annoyance. While there is no cure for tinnitus, there are effective treatments to help you manage it better. The goal of these treatments are to help control your reaction to the tinnitus so it bothers you less.

These strategies include cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT), relaxation and mindfulness exercises, tinnitus retraining therapy (TRT), sound therapy and the use of hearing aids.

Tinnibot

Sometimes accessing the effective tinnitus treatment, such as CBT, can be difficult or costly. Tinnibot makes accessing effective tinnitus management easy. Tinnibot is a virtual companion chatbot that uses the principles of CBT to help you better manage your tinnitus! You can also find tips on relaxation and how to improve your sleep and quality of life. For more details on how to better cope with your tinnitus, download the Tinnibot apptoday.