A number of factors are known to cause tinnitus, a condition that affects 10% of the UK population
Tinnitus is a condition that can cause a variety of noises to be heard in one or both ears. A wide range of age groups experience tinnitus and it can be caused by a multitude of factors, for example those who listen to loud music at rock concerts or at night clubs, those who work in noisy environments or those who are loosing their hearing. For many people there is no known reason for tinnitus symptoms. Tinnitus is known to frequently affect 10% of the population with findings showing tinnitus is persistent and troublesome in 5% of the UK adult population. Interestingly, 90% of the population free from any ear disease or active pathology experience tinnitus from time to time showing it can be a widespread, normal occurrence.
It may have a gradual, slow onset or it may make a sudden appearance. Many people think that tinnitus is a disease or an illness, but it is in fact a symptom that may be caused by either a mental or physical change, which is often not related to hearing.
This page describes the causes of tinnitus.
What are the common causes of tinnitus?
Although the precise mechanism of tinnitus is not fully understood, it is believed to be caused due to disturbances in the way that nerves work between the ear and the brain,
in relation to a change such as due to an ear infection or hearing constant noises. There are a number of treatment options you can use to help manage your tinnitus depending upon what has caused the tinnitus in the first place.
If tinnitus is occurring for a reason, it is important to explore that reason as there may be something you can do to take away the cause and in turn reduce or stop tinnitus symptoms. Further examples include:
- Stress, a link has been established between stress and tinnitus. Although stress doesn’t cause tinnitus, research has shown that stress does make tinnitus worse. Many stress factors such as redundancies, money worries, sitting exams and bereavement can contribute towards worsening tinnitus. If stress is worsening tinnitus symptoms, it is important to reduce your stress levels.
- Hearing loss, if tinnitus is caused by the fact you are loosing your hearing, a hearing aid will help to amplify normal sounds so tinnitus will not be so apparent in contrast to when you couldn’t hear surrounding sounds so well.
- Ear wax, lodging of foreign objects in the ear canal, ear drum perforation or an external ear infection, these are all outer ear disorders that may cause tinnitus that can be treated
- Ear infection, if tinnitus has been the result of an ear infection, antibiotics may be required to clear the infection, subsequently relieving the tinnitus.
- Middle ear effusion or glue ear is a condition where the ear fills with glue-like fluid instead of air and is mainly found in children. This may dull hearing and bring on tinnitus requiring the attention of a doctor. Other middle ear disorders include otosclerosis (a condition where the small bones in the middle ear become stiff and immobile due to new bone formation), vascular problems, middle ear infections, neuromuscular tics.
- Meniere’s disease, an inner ear disorder where tinnitus is accompanied by dizziness and nausea. An antihistamine may be prescribed by the doctor to help relieve symptoms.
- Loud noise or music, if tinnitus is due to loud noise or music either try to avoid the source or take the necessary precautions to prevent tinnitus worsening by using ear plugs or ear protectors if appropriate.
- High blood pressure is known to be a cause of tinnitus and so if you have tinnitus and think your blood pressure may be high you should consult your doctor.
- Medicines - know your own medicines as some medicines such as diuretics, high dose aspirin, chemotherapy drugs, some antibiotics, the anti-malarial, quinine and some beta-blockers are known to cause tinnitus as a side effect. It is important if you are taking one of these or any other medicines and experiencing tinnitus to talk to your doctor or pharmacist as they may be able to prescribe an alternative for you.
What are the less common causes of tinnitus include:
The less common causes of tinnitus include:
- A benign tumour (acoustic neuroma) – if you have been diagnosed with a benign tumour and tinnitus has been caused as a result of this, your doctor may recommend surgery to remove it.
- Central nervous system disorders such as epilepsy, concussion, syphilis or vascular malformations.
- Allergies, heart murmurs, anaemia or carotid arteriosclerosis.
Most types of tinnitus are only heard by the person experiencing it (this is called subjective tinnitus), whilst the other type of tinnitus (objective tinnitus) can be slightly audible to others. Objective tinnitus is usually caused by vascular or neuromuscular disease.
Although there are many possible causes of tinnitus, there are also many people who develop tinnitus and do not know why they are hearing noises in their ears. To help relieve tinnitus symptoms, these people may find complementary medicines and alternative therapies a useful choice of treatment.