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What causes Tinnitus? And how can you prevent it?

What causes Tinnitus? And how can you prevent it?

What is tinnitus?

Tinnitus is when you experience ringing (or other noises) in one or both of your ears. This isn’t an external sound, and others can’t usually hear it. Some sounds you may hear include:

  • Buzzing
  • Clicking
  • Hissing
  • Whistling
  • Roaring
  • Whooshing
  • Humming

Tinnitus is a common issue, affecting 15-20% of people, and is much more common with the elderly. Tinnitus is often caused by other underlying issues, and can vary in severity from person to person. The easiest way to verify whether you have tinnitus is to book a hearing test. Your audiologist should then be able to recommend treatments that will reduce or mask the noise.

What causes tinnitus?

Age
Your inner ear has tiny hairs that move when you receive sound waves, which triggers signals from your auditory nerve to your brain. This is an important step in the hearing process. As you age, your hair cells (known as cochlea) can bend or even break. This causes the cochlea to send random signals to the brain, which the brain interprets as sounds. 

Environment

Tinnitus can be caused by constant exposure to loud environments. People who are regularly exposed to loud noise such as musicians or construction workers are more likely to experience hearing loss and tinnitus.

Ear infection/blockage

When ears become infected or are consistently blocked (by earwax, dirt, foreign objects, fluid, etc) the pressure within the ear canal can be affected and may lead to tinnitus.

Head or neck trauma

Any head or neck injuries may affect your hearing, which includes impacting your inner ear, hearing nerves or even your brain. In most cases tinnitus caused by head/neck trauma only affects one ear.

Medications

Some medication can cause tinnitus, and will get worse with higher dosages. Lowering the dosage or stopping the medication all together usually provides relief. Some medication that can cause tinnitus includes antibiotics, cancer drugs, antidepressants, nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), and more.

Infections

Ear or sinus infections can cause temporary tinnitus. This tinnitus often disappears once your body has healed from the infection. 

Uncommon causes of tinnitus

  • Meniere's disease
  • Changes to the ear bone
  • Temporomandibular joint (TMJ) disorder
  • Eustachian tube dysfunction
  • Inner ear muscle spasms
  • Blood vessel disorders
  • Chronic conditions (such as diabetes, migraines, anaemia, thyroid problems and autoimmune disorders)
  • Head or neck tumours

How can you prevent tinnitus?

Wear hearing protection

Exposure to loud noises such as machinery, engines, gunshots, concerts and fireworks can damage your hearing. Avoiding loud environments and wearing hearing protection gear can prevent hearing loss and tinnitus.

Limit loud sounds

Your ears can cope with loud noises as long as you take regular breaks. It’s the constant exposure that leads to hearing loss and/or tinnitus. Give your ears time to recover and readjust before exposing them to loud noises again. Check out ACS’s safe exposure time tool to figure out how long your ears can withstand loud sounds without damaging your hearing.

Keep distance from loud sounds

If you’re going to a concert, we recommend booking seats that are further away from the speakers. The further you sit from the loud noise, the safer it is. Alternatively, you could wear custom earplugs that are designed for concerts and other loud noises.

Consider a healthier lifestyle

Aside from the many other health risks that come with smoking, it can also lead to tinnitus. Additionally, sugar, alcohol, coffee and salt can all increase the risk or worsen tinnitus.

Don’t ignore medical conditions

Some medical conditions, if left untreated, can lead to tinnitus. One example is Meniere’s disease. If your family has a history of suffering from this medical condition, we recommend getting tested. An early detection can help lessen the symptoms. 

Protect your heart

Heart health is vital when it comes to avoiding tinnitus. Blood vessel disorders can increase your risk of getting tinnitus, so maintaining a healthy heart with regular exercise and a good diet can make a big difference.

Reduce stress

Stress and anxiety can sometimes cause tinnitus, as they can lead to muscular and jaw pain. Stress can also cause existing tinnitus to flare up. Try and do the things you enjoy every day and leave a little time for yourself to create a healthy life balance.

Not sure where to start, or what changes you need? Book an appointment with our audiologists for a hearing test to see if you already have tinnitus, or purchase our custom earplugs to protect your hearing.