July 22, 2021

Tinnitus Guide: Causes, Symptoms, and Treatment

What is Tinnitus ?

Tinnitus is simply defined as a constant ringing in the ears, but it can also be described as an annoying noise, such as a buzzing or clicking sound. The sound may be soft or loud, high pitched or low pitched. It might be heard in one or both ears. 

How many Americans are thought to struggle with tinnitus?
Tinnitus affects over 45 million Americans, making it one of the most common health conditions in the country.


Scientists are not sure why the brain detects sounds that don't exist. Tinnitus can be subjective or objective. In subjective tinnitus, only you can hear the sounds. Objective tinnitus, which is rare, is audible to others as well. 

It is believed that most cases of tinnitus result from damaged inner ear hair cells.

In over 99% of cases, the subjective variety is present. Damage to the hair cells in the cochlea usually causes it to begin in the inner ear. While some tinnitus is chronic (ongoing), others experience acute episodes.

Pulsatile tinnitus is a rare type of tinnitus that causes you to hear your heartbeat inside your ear, usually at night when it is quiet.

However, tinnitus is not a disease, but rather a symptom of one or more underlying health problems such as:

  • Ear infection
  • Damage to the nervous system
  • Cardiovascular disease
  • Thyroid problem
  • Pregnancy
  • Inflammation of the sinuses
  • Traumatic brain injury
  • The Meniere's disease

What Causes Tinnitus?

There are several causes of tinnitus, including:

Hearing loss

A small, delicate group of hair cells resides within your inner ear (cochlea) that move when sound waves pass through. As a result of this movement, electrical signals travel from your ear to your brain (auditory nerve). The brain interprets these signals as sound.
Typically, tinnitus occurs when your inner ear hairs are bent or broken as you age or when you experience loud sounds regularly. The tinnitus is caused by random electrical impulses that pass through your inner ear and reach your brain

Ear infection or ear canal obstruction

It is possible for your ear canals to become blocked by accumulation of earwax, dirt, or fluids (ear infections). Tinnitus can be brought on by changes in the ear's pressure.

Head or neck injuries

Brain function associated with hearing can be affected by head or neck trauma. Tinnitus usually occurs in only one ear following such injuries.


Tinnitus may be caused or made worse by a number of medications. Tinnitus generally becomes worse with higher doses of these medications. In most cases, the unwanted noise disappears once you stop taking these drugs. Tinnitus has been associated with nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) and certain antibiotics, cancer drugs, water pills (diuretics), antimalarial, and antidepressants.

Tinnitus caused by other factors

Tinnitus may also be caused by other ear problems, chronic health conditions, or injuries or disorders of the nerves in your ear or the hearing center in your brain.

Disease of Meniere's. Meniere's disease, an inner ear fluid pressure disorder, may be associated with tinnitus, an early symptom of the disease.

Dysfunction of the Eustachian tube. A condition in which the tube that connects the middle ear and upper throat remains completely expanded, causing your ear to feel full.

Changes in the ear bone. Tinnitus is caused by stiffening of the bones in your middle ear (otosclerosis). An abnormal bone growth causes this condition, which tends to run in families.

Inner ear muscle spasms. Tightening of the inner ear muscles (spasm) can cause tinnitus, hearing loss, and the sensation of fullness in the ear. Multiple sclerosis and other neurologic diseases can also cause this phenomenon.

Disorders of the temporal-mandibular joint (TMJ). Tinnitus can be caused by issues with the TMJ, the joint on either side of your head, where your lower jawbone meets your skull.

An acoustic neuroma or other head and neck tumor. A benign (noncancerous) tumor that develops on the cranial nerve and controls balance and hearing in your inner ear is called an acoustic neuroma. Other head, neck, and brain tumors can also cause tinnitus.

Disorders of the blood vessels. The blood may move through your veins and arteries with more force if you have atherosclerosis, high blood pressure, or kinked or malformed blood vessels. Tinnitus can be caused by these changes in blood flow or made more noticeable by them.

Other chronic diseases. Among the conditions associated with tinnitus are diabetes, thyroid problems, headaches, anemia, rheumatoid arthritis, and lupus.

Tinnitus Symptoms

The effects of tinnitus vary from person to person. For some people, tinnitus can have a significant impact on their quality of life. You may experience the following symptoms if you have tinnitus:

  • Fatigue
  • Stress
  • Insomnia
  • Concentration problems
  • Problems with memory
  • Anxiety and irritability
  • Depression
  • Headaches
  • Work and family problems

Tinnitus Treatments

There is no cure for chronic tinnitus, but treatments are available to minimize the noise. Often, it improves naturally over time. 

Taking care of your overall health is the first step. Examine your diet, your exercise routine, and your sleep pattern. Consider seeking treatment for depression and anxiety first.

  • Avoid loud noises by using ear protectors. 

    Tinnitus may appear less noticeable if your hearing aid is properly adjusted to cancel ambient sounds.

  • Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT)  can help you better understand what is going on in your brain and how to reduce the acoustic pressure. Another option is to use background music or ear-level maskers for sound therapy.
  • If your blood pressure is too high, get it under control.
  • Get into a daily exercise routine.
  • Sleep well.
  • Stop smoking.
  • Don't overuse aspirin or other NSAIDs.
  • Mediate or practice yoga. 
  • Reduce your caffeine and alcohol intake.
  • If possible, you can also use a humidifier or a fan to sleep.



*These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. These products are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease. Individual results may vary. The Hearing Health guide does not offer any medical advice and does not claim to be a provider of medical information. Just as with the start of any diet or new supplement, we recommend that consumers defer to the advice of their medical provider prior to starting the diet.

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