An In-Depth Look at What Causes Tinnitus

    what causes tinnitusStop the Ringing has a very active page on Facebook where people share their stories of triumph and turmoil with Tinnitus. Check it out here.

    One thing I’ve noticed in the many conversations on that Facebook page is that some people have concrete ideas about what causes Tinnitus and seem unwaveringly attached to them. My guess is they were diagnosed with T and given a cause, and they’ve decided that applies across the board.

    The simple fact if the matter is that T has numerous causes. And, sometimes, there may be no cause at all. The doctor might just say, “You have Tinnitus but I don’t know why. And there is no cure. Deal with it”.

    So I wanted to chime in and give you a sense of the many causes of Tinnitus. Now, I know that it’s all too easy to self-diagnose with some kind of horrid (and possibly terminal) disease with Doctor Google. That’s not my intention here.

    By all means, if you have a ringing in your ears (or chirping, buzzing, crickets, cicadas, and so on) you should have yourself seen to by an Ear, Nose and Throat Specialist (ENT).

    But you should also know the potential causes of Tinnitus before getting that check-up, if only to know what the doc is taking about, much the same way you should know how your car works before taking it to the mechanic.

    What Causes Tinnitus?

    One of the most common causes of Tinnitus, in one way or another, is inner ear damage. Your inner ear contains tiny hairs (stereocilia) that move in response to sound waves. The movement of those cells creates electrical impulses that are sent, via the auditory nerve, to your brain. Your brain then interprets these signals as sound.

    Those little hairs in your inner ear are incredibly fragile. When they get bent or broken, they have a nasty habit of sending random signals to your brain that are interpreted as the ringing we all know so well. When they get damaged, there’s little hope of restoring them, as yet.

    What Damaged Inner Ear Cells Look Like



    Some of the most common causes of inner ear damage include:

    • Age-Related Hearing Loss (Presbycusis)

    Unfortunately, this is just a side effect of our long lives. It is a very recent phenomenon that humans live as long as they do and, quite possibly, there are just parts of us that weren’t designed to function for 85 or so years. As hearing naturally fades, Tinnitus is often the result.

    • Exposure to Extreme Levels of Sound

    Another unfortunate fact of life, exposure to loud noise can cause inner ear damage and, in turn, Tinnitus. Whether it’s heavy machinery, war, or loud concerts, the outcome is predictable.

    Temporary Tinnitus can result from a single exposure to extreme noise, and will generally fade within a few days. But repeated exposure will eventually cause irreparable damage.

    noise exposure

    Physical Conditions That Can Cause Tinnitus

    • Earwax Blockage

    Earwax, while generally considered an annoyance, protects your ear canal by trapping dirt and slowing bacterial growth. However, too much of a good thing can cause trouble (doesn’t it always?). An excess buildup of earwax can become difficult to wash away and lead to Tinnitus.

    • Changes to The Inner Ear Bone (Otosclerosis)

    This condition tends to be genetic, which is either good or bad, depending on your family’s medical history. Otosclerosis is a stiffening of the bones in your middle ear, which may affect your hearing and cause tinnitus.

    Illness-Related Causes of Tinnitus

    • Meniere’s Disease

    Tinnitus is often a symptom of Meniere’s disease, an inner ear disorder that often results in vertigo and hearing loss.

    • TMJ

    TMJ is an issue with the temperomandibular joint, where your lower jawbone meets your skull. It can be the cause of Tinnitus.

    • Head or Neck Trauma

    Obviously, if you’ve had head or neck trauma, you’re aware of it. That could very well be the cause of your Tinnitus.

    • Acoustic Neuroma (Vestibular Schwannoma)

    Acoustic Neuroma is a benign tumor that forms on the 8th cranial nerve and typically grows 1-2mm per year. Tinnitus from a Vestibular Schwannoma tends to be isolated to a single ear so if that is in line with your symptoms you should get it checked out.

    Vitamin and Nutrient Deficiencies

    • Vitamin B12

    Vitamin B-12, also called cobalamin, plays a key role in the normal functioning of the brain and nervous system, and for the formation of blood. It is critical for Tinnitus sufferers to get as much B12 as possible, which primarily comes from meat.

    • Zinc

    Zinc plays a critical role in the regulation of DNA repair mechanisms, cell proliferation, differentiation and apoptosis (whereby infected cells, quite literally, commit suicide).

    Researchers estimate that as much as 30% of Tinnitus sufferers are Zinc deficient. Not only is a Zinc deficiency problematic for T, it is believed to be the cause for a whole host of chronic maladies.

    • Magnesium

    Required for nearly all energy generation processes in the body, Magnesium is vital in preventing and reducing hearing loss, one of the underlying causes of tinnitus.

    Blood Vessel Disorders (Pulsatile Tinnitus)

    Some Tinnitus is caused by blood vessel disorders. Typically, this type of tinnitus is not a constant sound. Rather, the sound tends to follow your heart beat. If you have a pulsing sound in your ears, these conditions should not be ruled out.
    [focusArea_in_content] At this point I’d like to remind you that I am neither a doctor nor a scientist. I’m just a guy who has Tinnitus and wants to create a community that can work together to find answers. The following conditions are very, very serious and I don’t want to give the impression that I’m taking them lightly. If you’re seeking answers to the cause of your Tinnitus and feel that the below may apply to you, it’s my strong recommendation that you discuss these notions with your doctor. In this case, Tinnitus may be the very thing that saves your life…

    • Head and Neck Tumors

    A tumor that presses on a blood vessel in your head or neck (vascular neoplasm) can cause Pulsatile Tinnitus.

    • Atherosclerosis

    As plaque builds up in your veins over time, the pathways become restricted. This can reduce blood flow to your ears, causing Pulsatile Tinnitus. If Atherosclerosis is the cause of your Tinnitus, you will likely hear it as a pulse in both ears. If that’s the case, you need to get to your doctor ASAP.

    • High Blood Pressure (Hypertension)

    Hypertension increases blood pressure which can cause a pounding in your ears.

    • Turbulent blood flow

    Narrowing or kinking of your carotid artery or jugular vein can cause turbulent blood flow, leading to tinnitus.

    Medication-Induced Tinnitus

    Medicine, as we know all too well, has side effects. One of those is Tinnitus. Often, the dosage that will cause or worsen T is very high. If you take any of the following medications and Tinnitus is the result, consider reducing the dosage or switching meds:

    • Polymyxin B
    • Erythromycin
    • Vancomycin
    • Neomycin
    • Mechlorethamine
    • Vincristine
    • Bumetanide
    • Ethacrynic Acid
    • Furosemide
    • Quinine medications
    • Antidepressants
    • Aspirin

    medicine and tinnitus

    In Conclusion

    As we’ve seen, there are many causes of the dreaded Tinnitus, and not all of them are nerve damage. If you’re among the lucky few who have a reparable form of T, the above list should be helpful in deducing the cause. If, like me, your T is the result of noise-induced hearing loss, we have to keep our fingers crossed that some genius will figure out a way to fix us.

    In the meantime, we do have methods at our disposal to control the intensity of the noise, namely stress reduction, mindfulness techniques and nutrient replacements. I’m currently researching mindfulness (and taking an 8-week class in Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction) and hope to have something useful to bring you in the coming weeks.

    And, as always, remember that we’re all in this together…

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    Leave a Comment:

    Anthony W. Allsop says April 17, 2015

    When working on a building site when in my early twenties I happened upon a “live” .22 cartridge used in nail-guns. It had fallen onto the concrete floor.

    I knew what would happen if I hit it with my lump-hammer, it would give a loud bang and make my mates jump.

    So I hit it. The bang was much louder than I thought it would be and we were in a room.

    From that day to this (I’m now in my mid seventies) I have had a sort of high-pitched hissing in my ears. Sometimes it’s hardly noticeable but at other times, especially when I’m in bed trying to sleep, it get’s very loud indeed.

    I’ve heard that a possible cure is in the offing and would appreciate relief.

      stoptheringing says April 17, 2015

      As a former construction worker and remodeler, I’ve fired countless thousands of those same charges, Anthony. And most of the time I wore ear plugs. But there’s always that one or two that get by without the plugs. Over decades, those “one or two” add up to many hundreds, at least.

      Man we do dumb stuff when we’re younger, huh?

    Robin O'Carroll says May 7, 2015

    Good information as an alternative to ENT experts whose diagnoses after years and years of education result in: Age; must have had it earlier; earwax et al et al. And the fact that some people commit suicide due to tinitis – great comfort coming from a ‘specialist’. I would like my story sent out there to one and all who suffer from this annoying phenomenon. 4 years ago I went to see ENT specialist to get information on a well known symptom in my left ear which was a flapping noise caused by nerve twitch. I had not had a reoccurence of this issue for several months prior to seeing this ENT specialist but thought I would get his 10 cents worth. While there, had the usual hearing test – OK. He looked in ears and indicated small amounts of wax which he could clean while there. I agreed, but then he stated he used a VACUUM system for cleaning as the old style flushing was not widely used any more. Naively I agreed. I had pronounced pain and discomfort in left ear particularly during the cleaning, and on completion I noticed 2 symptoms I had never had before. Namely, high pitched frequency in my head, and distortion in left ear especially to higher pitch sounds or loud noises. I indicated these 2 issues with the doctor who suggested waiting a week for things to settle and return if still experiencing symptoms. Nothing changed, and so the reasons or BS nonsense began with explanations from your age; must have had it before cleaning; prior trauma to ear – never! And so I began my own research as well as visiting other ENT doctors who apart from 2 stood beside the diagnosis or original ENT doctor. All roads of research seemed to indicate trauma or damage to the inner ear hairs – just like the damage that was caused by the VACUUM cleaning of my ears. Now I may be that one in a million that was affected by this procedure, but 2 doctors suggested the possibility. My advice to anyone thinking of having their ears cleaned by this VACUUM system know the potential issues that it can cause as in my case. I have now had tinitis and distortion in my head and left ear for 4 years and have accepted it is here for life. All caused by a piece of ‘modern equipment’ and modern procedure as opposed to flushing. Extremely angry and upset that I now have a major impact on my quality of life since this initial cleaning. never had hearing issues before that, and definitely never had high pitched frequency in my head. Patients of ENT and GP doctors beware.

    LEE, SUNG MOON says May 18, 2015

    My ear is ring always !

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