Tinnitus Causes & Risk Factors

Tinnitus is not always a permanent issue, and treating the underlying causes can remove or at least reduce the symptoms. That’s why it is important to understand the common causes of tinnitus


Tinnitus is a condition where you experience a ringing, buzzing, hissing, or similar noise in one or both ears. This noise is not from an external  source as no one else around you would hear it. Instead, the noise is caused by an internal issue.


You can also decrease your chances of contracting the condition by being mindful of the common risk factors of tinnitus. 


Tinnitus Risk Factors

The common theme for any risk factor or cause of tinnitus is when the natural hearing process becomes interrupted. When your ears receive any sound, it is picked up by the inner ear hair cells. These hair cells send electric pulses through the auditory nerve to your brain to process the sound. So if the hair cells or auditory nerve become damaged, that is when tinnitus can occur.


So if you want to avoid contracting tinnitus, you first need to know what the risk factors are that can cause this kind of damage. Being proactive can help you prevent it from occurring in the first place. Here are the most common risk factors:

Exposure to Loud Noise
Being exposed to sudden or persistent noise above a certain level increases your chance of developing tinnitus. This is especially true if you are frequently around loud noise, such as working around loud machinery or being in the military. The noise causes damage to your hearing nerve and hair cells, which can lead to tinnitus. 
Smoking and Drinking Alcohol
People who smoke and drink alcohol regularly are at a higher risk of tinnitus. Nicotine can interfere with the auditory nerve and cause it to decay at a faster rate than normal. Alcohol changes the blood vessels and blood flow in your ears.
Cardiovascular Disorders
High blood pressure, heart disease, and other cardiovascular issues are risk factors for tinnitus. This can include obesity and diabetes, both which may impact on your cardiovascular health.
You are increasingly likely to develop tinnitus as you get older. This is due to the increased chance of your hearing mechanisms becoming damaged.
Injuries or Trauma
Having a history of injuries or trauma in your head or neck will increase the risk of developing tinnitus with each new injury.
Tinnitus is more common in men than women. While there is no helping this, men should be more careful in avoiding the other common risk factors.
Common Risk Factors Associated with Tinnitus

While the risk factors increase the chances of developing tinnitus, they are not direct causes. What causes tinnitus to occur are things that directly lead to the damage or blockage of your hearing process. Here are the most common causes.

Ear Blockage

There are several ways that your ear canals may be blocked, including:


  • Excessive or impacted earwax
  • Abnormal growth (e.g., Otosclerosis)
  • Tumours
  • Ear infection and other kinds of swelling or inflammation
  • Meniere’s disease that causes excess fluid to build up in your ear and muffled sound
Medication Side Effects

There are many medications with side effects that cause tinnitus. They may also make the symptoms worse if you already have tinnitus. The severity of the tinnitus medications that can cause will depend on the potency of the dose you have to take. If you stop taking the medication, or switch to one that does not have tinnitus as a side effect, it will often go away completely. The most common medications to avoid, if possible, include: 


  • Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) like Aspirin, Motrin, and Aleve
  • Certain kinds of antibacterial and cancer medication
Physical Issues

There are a variety of physical issues in or around your ear that are associated  with tinnitus. These are characterized by some kind of change or trauma that affects the bones, joints and muscles in your head or neck. Some examples include:


  • Trauma to the head or neck that can damage your hearing.
  • Neck or jaw conditions such as Temporomandibular Disorder (TMD) which affect the joints of your jaw in front of your ears.
  • Issues with your eustachian tube that connects your middle ear with your throat
  • Inner ear muscle spasms
Blood Disorders

In order to function properly, your inner ear hair cells and auditory nerve need a consistent quality and quantity of blood and blood flow. If that is disrupted in any way, it can often lead to tinnitus. That means there are a variety of health disorders relating to your blood that can be associated with tinnitus, including the following:


  • Atherosclerosis
  • Head and neck tumors
  • High blood pressure
  • Turbulent blood flow
  • Malformation of capillaries
  • Anemia
Various Illnesses, Diseases, and Other Health Issues

Lastly, there is an assortment of various health issues that can lead to temporary or permanent tinnitus. These include various illnesses, diseases, and specific conditions that can affect your hearing. They include:


  • Allergies
  • Thyroid issues
  • Autoimmune diseases
  • Diabetes
  • Obesity
  • Hormonal changes, mostly in women
What Can Make Your Tinnitus Worse

If you already have tinnitus, there are certain things that can make your symptoms worse. These cause the ringing, buzzing or hissing sound to be louder and more persistent. They include: 


  • Alcohol
  • Smoking
  • Caffeine
  • Certain foods that affect blood flow
  • Stress
  • Fatigue


If you are experiencing an increase in the severity of your symptoms, try reducing or cutting out certain substances. You may also find that being stressed and tired increases the symptoms as well. Being able to reduce your levels of stress and improve your quality of sleep will also help manage your symptoms.

Now that you know the common risk factors of tinnitus, you will be better equipped to avoid it as much as possible. If you think you have tinnitus and are looking for a diagnosis, our clinics can help. You will be asked a number of questions that help us identify the underlying causes. In some cases, our hearing healthcare professional may be able to provide direct help to manage your condition. You can contact us at any time for more information, or to book an appointment at our local clinic.

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