What Causes Tinnitus?

People with tinnitus often hear ringing, buzzing, chirping and humming even when there is no source of any sound. Rarely, tinnitus is heard by other people in addition to the person who has it.

A number of factors cause tinnitus, which affects about 30 million Americans.

Causes of Tinnitus

Oftentimes, the cause of tinnitus is unknown. Some common causes are:

  • Hearing loss as a result of aging and/or genetics.
  • History of exposure to loud sounds (e.g., heavy machinery, firearms, and excessively loud music).
  • Traumatic injury to the ear.
  • Medication side effect. Various over the counter and prescription medications report tinnitus as a side effect, including daily aspirin consumption. Tinnitus of this nature may be permanent or temporary, depending on the drug.
  • Ear wax. The presence of ear wax that significantly occludes the ear canals can result in temporary tinnitus. Always consult your provider before starting any at-home ear wax removal.
  • Vestibular schwannoma. This is a non-cancerous mass, located on a nerve in the vestibular part of the inner ear, and may require surgery.

How to Treat Tinnitus

While there is no cure for tinnitus, there are many ways to manage it, including:

These techniques don't eliminate tinnitus but train your brain and limbic system to reduce its awareness of the tinnitus.

Although it can be frustrating, tinnitus is usually not serious. However, if you experience tinnitus that you consider to be bothersome, comes on suddenly or occurs only in one ear, please consult a physician.

Hearing and Balance at University Health

If you have questions about tinnitus or other hearing issues, the Hearing and Balance Center at University Health can help.

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