Most Common Tinnitus Causes, Symptoms & Signs

It’s estimated that almost 15% of Americans — that’s close to 50 million people — have experienced some form of tinnitus in their lifetime. That’s a lot of people dealing with tinnitus, a condition in which one hears an auditory hallucination in one or both ears when no actual sound is present.

Given that this is such a pervasive concern — that has effects that can reach far beyond the realm of hearing health — it’s important to know the possible causes, symptoms, and other signs of tinnitus. In this post, we tune in to those aspects exclusively.

Causes of Tinnitus

Much of the time, we don’t know the exact origin of a person’s tinnitus. However, we do know that:

  1. Tinnitus isn’t a disease itself.
  2. Tinnitus is usually related to or caused by an underlying issue.
  3. Tinnitus is often associated with an abnormality of the hearing and/or neural systems.

Although the specific root cause of tinnitus may be unknown, several correlated genetic, physiological, medical, and environmental factors may lead to tinnitus. These can include one or more of the following.

Genetic & Physiological Factors

caucasian woman pressing her ears because of ringing in the ears

Problems with ear structure or function can contribute to tinnitus. 

  • Disorders in the outer ear, such as excessive ear wax or a perforated eardrum
  • Disorders in the middle ear, such as negative pressure from eustachian tube dysfunction, fluid, infection, otosclerosis, allergies, or benign tumors
  • Disorders in the inner ear, such as sensorineural hearing loss due to aging, inner ear infection, or Meniere’s disease

Non-auditory disorders can also trigger tinnitus. Here are just a few examples.

  • Trauma to the head or neck, such as whiplash or concussion
  • Temporomandibular (jaw joint) disorders, such as TMJ
  • Neck misalignment

Personal attributes like your sex, tobacco and alcohol use, and age affect the prevalence of tinnitus, too.

Medical Factors

Tinnitus also can temporarily result from certain medications like:

  • Anti-inflammatories (e.g.,aspirin, ibuprofen, nonsteroidal anti-inflammatories, and quinine)
  • Sedatives
  • Antidepressants
  • Certain antibiotics and chemotherapeutic agents

Certain systemic disorders, such as the ones below, may cause tinnitus.

  • Anemia
  • Head or neck aneurysms
  • High or low blood pressure
  • Diabetes
  • Glucose metabolism abnormalities
  • A growth on the jugular vein
  • Thyroid dysfunction
  • Acoustic tumors
  • Vascular disorders

Environmental Factors

caucasian elderly couple walking their beagle in the woods

The world around us — as well as the conditions in the ear itself — can impact our hearing in many ways. For example, tinnitus may develop if there is:

  • A hair touching the eardrum
  • A foreign objectbody in the ear
  • Exposure to loud noise (e.g., like the ones that may be an everyday occurrence in construction, factory work, music production, or the military)

Is Hearing Loss a Cause of Tinnitus?

Most people with tinnitus also have hearing loss. However, to be clear, hearing loss does not cause tinnitus. Also, the presence of tinnitus does not mean that one is losing or is going to lose hearing. There’s correlation, not causation, between these conditions. 

Common Tinnitus Symptoms

Just like no individuals have identical fingerprints, no two people have the same tinnitus profile. The sounds one hears, the duration and frequency of episodes, how it feels, and more are as unique as each of us.

For example, the sound you hear could be one or a combination of these noises:

  • Beeping
  • Crickets
  • Locusts
  • Roaring
  • Tickling
  • Whining
  • Buzzing
  • Hissing
  • Pure Tone
  • Sizzling
  • Tree Frogs
  • Whistling
  • Clicking
  • Humming
  • Ringing
  • Songs
  • Tunes
  • Whooshing

A Closer Look at Tinnitus Sounds

Tinnitus symptoms and signs range much further afield than just a clicking or a fluttering in the ear. And while ringing in the ears is probably the most noted symptom of tinnitus, here are a few categories of tinnitus noises that are incredibly common:

  • Tonal sounds have well-defined frequencies and the volume may waver. Tonal noises are typical of subjective tinnitus.
  • Pulsatile sounds usually sync with one’s heartbeat, which can indicate a serious vascular problem (that should be investigated). Pulsatile noises are a hallmark of objective and somatic tinnitus.
  • Musical sounds may manifest as music or singing, sometimes playing on perpetual Repeat.

Trajectory of Tinnitus

The progression of tinnitus isn’t well understood. But, we do know that symptoms can evolve and change. Even for those with chronic tinnitus, the perception of noises isn’t usually constant. Sensitivity to symptoms often decreases over time, though full remission is rare.

Other Side Effects of Tinnitus

In addition to phantom sounds, people with tinnitus may also confront other undesirable secondary issues like:

  • Fatigue
  • Stress
  • Memory problems
  • Distraction and trouble focusing
  • Irritability and mood swings
  • Anxiety and depression 
  • Insomnia and other sleep troubles
  • Agitation
  • Dizziness or lightheadedness
  • Headaches
  • Body pains

A Closer Look at Complications Related to Tinnitus

It’s not out of the ordinary for mental and physical problems to hitch a ride with tinnitus. Among the most reported complaints are psychological challenges (e.g., stress, anxiety, depression, suicidal thoughts) and sleep disturbance (e.g., getting and staying asleep).

In fact, struggles with mental health and sleep may feed into each other and the many additional side effects people with tinnitus may face. Right now, there isn’t evidence to support the theory that these secondary issues cause tinnitus — but they might aggravate it.

What Determines These Secondary Issues?

The array of possible complications to tinnitus will vary based on your body and the type of tinnitus you have. Any underlying or contributing health problems will influence potential side effects as well. For instance, those with Ménière’s disease often experience hearing loss and dizziness, in addition to tinnitus.

How to Prevent Tinnitus Symptoms From Getting Worse?

female audiologist looking into an elderly woman's ear

To keep tinnitus from deteriorating, it needs to be treated. Ignoring a problem hardly ever leads to it going away!

To most effectively address one’s tinnitus, it needs to be properly diagnosed. A qualified audiologist or other hearing specialist will examine you and ask questions in order to evaluate your case. Before a diagnosis is determined, your doctor may need to consult with other specialists or perform additional tests. Based on all the information and data gathered, your doctor should be able to diagnose the type and severity of, as well as plausible reasons for, your tinnitus.

Treatment for tinnitus may be a multi-faceted approach. Your healthcare will work with you to come up with a suitable care plan to address your tinnitus and any complications. Treatments may include medications, devices, and lifestyle practices.

Current research suggests that — even if tinnitus is initially due to an injury to the ear — eventually an auditory pattern is established in the brain. As such, many treatment regimens are directed at the brain, not the ear.

All in, the overarching goal of treatment is to improve your well-being and quality of life.

Levo Medical Hears You & Can Help You

At Levo Medical, we’re up to our earlobes in all things tinnitus. We have the knowledge and experience to help ease your tinnitus symptoms and severity so you can start living your best life yet.
When you’re ready to take action, our experts are on hand to assist you directly or refer you to a local Levo System provider. Either way, you’ll get the most cutting-edge information and solutions — just what you need to be happier and healthier. Simply reach out today.

The Levo System is an FDA-cleared medical device that provides patients a patented personal sound therapy which through neural habituation leverages the cognitive abilities of the brain to reduce the symptoms of their tinnitus and improve the quality of a patient’s daily life.

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