Tinnitus is the medical term for any noise in the ear or in the head. Tinnitus is most usually caused by the damage that occurs inside the inner ear. Almost everything that can highly affect our ears can cause tinnitus in a person. It may be something as simple as wax against the eardrum or as severe as a tumor on the hearing nerve.
There are many different causes of tinnitus. In addition to persistent exposure to loud noise, tinnitus is also related to the sudden onset of hearing loss, ear or head injuries, ear infections and diseases as well as emotional stress and trauma.
Five Tinnitus Causes
Exposure to Loud Noise
Tinnitus can be occasionally caused as a result of hearing damage due to too much noise. Loud noises such as those from heavy equipment like chainsaws and firearms are the common sources of noise-related hearing loss. High-risk groups include industrial workers, farmers, etc. Portable music devices such as MP3 players or iPods can also cause noise-related hearing loss if played loudly for long periods. Tinnitus caused by short-term exposure, such as attending a loud concert usually goes away; long-term exposure to loud sound can cause permanent damage.
Inner Ear Cell Damage
A common cause of tinnitus can be inner ear cell damage. Several delicate hairs are present in your inner ear which moves according to the pressure of sound waves. This generates the ear cells to release an electrical signal to your brain through a nerve from your ear known as the auditory nerve. Your brain understands these signals as sound. If the hairs inside your inner ear are bent or damaged, they can leak random electrical impulses to your brain causing tinnitus.
Earwax protects your ear canal by trapping dirt and slackening the growth of bacteria. In some people, the glands produce more wax which cannot be easily removed from the ear. This extra wax may get hardened in the ear canal and block the ear. When you try to clean the ear, you might push the wax deeper and block the ear canal. When too much earwax mounts up, it becomes too difficult to wash away naturally causing hearing loss or irritation of the eardrum which can lead to tinnitus.
A number of medications may cause or worsen tinnitus. Usually, the higher the dose of these medications, the worse tinnitus becomes. Drugs known to cause or worsen tinnitus include several types of antibiotics, cancer medications, water pills or diuretics, quinine medications which are used for malaria or other health disorders, etc. Certain antidepressants and sedatives may worsen tinnitus. Aspirin if taken in unusually high doses (generally 12 or more a day) can cause tinnitus. Often the annoying noise vanishes when you stop using these drugs.
Ear Bone Changes
Stiffening of the bones of your middle ear (otosclerosis) may disturb your hearing and cause tinnitus. This condition is caused by abnormal bone growth in the ear. The abnormal bone grips the stapes in the oval window and inhibits the sound passing waves of the inner ear. This bone prevents structures within the ear from functioning properly. It is hereditary and tends to run in families. People who have a family history of otosclerosis are more likely to mature the disorder.
Tinnitus can deteriorate in some people if they drink alcohol, smoke cigarettes, drink caffeinated beverages or eat certain foods. In some cases, stress and fatigue can also worsen tinnitus.