What causes tinnitus & ringing in the ears

Tinnitus can develop gradually or appear out of nowhere. The causes of tinnitus are varied and difficult to pin down.  In the vast majority of cases, however, tinnitus is not related to any serious physical condition.

It is believed that tinnitus is amplified spontaneous neural activity, resulting in a "ringing in the brain".

Understanding Tinnitus - Causes and Symptoms

What is tinnitus?

Tinnitus, or ringing in the ears, is the sensation of hearing intermittent or continuous ringing, humming, buzzing, whistling, or other sounds. It can appear worse when background noise is low so you may be more aware of it in a quiet space.

Tinnitus can develop gradually or appear out of nowhere. While frustrating, in the vast majority of cases, it is not related to any serious physical condition. 

Common causes of tinnitus

Prolonged exposure to excessively loud sound, including workplace noise, high intensity music, or firearms is the most common cause of tinnitus. Approximately 4 in 5 people with tinnitus also experience some level of noise-induced hearing loss.

A wide variety of other conditions can lead to developing tinnitus, such as:

  • Blockages such as ear wax or infection.
  • Diseases of the inner ear, such as Meniere's disease.
  • Stress or trauma to the head, neck, or jaw. 
  • Certain medications, such as anti-inflammatories, antibiotics, and antidepressants cite tinnitus as a side effect.
  • High blood pressure and hardening of the arteries.
  • In very rare cases, issues such as aneurysms or benign tumors in the ear.

Symptoms of tinnitus

People with tinnitus can experience anything from intermittent episodes of ringing that are not very bothersome to a constant noise that can negatively influence one’s daily life. Tinnitus is often only heard by the person experiencing it (subjective tinnitus); although, occasionally a doctor may be able to hear it when using a stethoscope in the ear (objective tinnitus).
 

Tinnitus takes on many forms

  • Tonal Tinnitus causes a constant chiming sound in the ears, like a musical note played again and again.
  • Pulsatile Tinnitus produces a sound that pulsates in time to one’s heartbeat.
  • Mixed Tinnitus symptoms are characterized by multiple noises heard at the same time.
  • Objective Tinnitus is very rare and produces noises heard not only by the affected individual, but by others as well. 

Symptoms of tinnitus can indicate a larger health problem. You should see a hearing care professional under any of the following circumstances:

  • Your tinnitus is accompanied by dizziness and/or balance problems.
  • You notice pain or drainage from the ears.
  • You have persistent tinnitus affecting your day to day functioning.

Want to know more about the ear?

Do you have additional questions about the ear anatomy?  Would you like to know more about hearing loss, or get a free hearing screening to assess your level of hearing loss?  A Beltone hearing care professional can help!

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