When the sounds are only audible to an individual and no one else, the condition is known as subjective tinnitus. In rare cases, a doctor may be able to hear the rhythmic pulsing sounds of a condition known as pulsatile or objective tinnitus.

The Mayo Clinic says that tinnitus “affects about 15% to 20% of people and is especially common in older adults1." To avoid long-term damage, individuals suffering from tinnitus should consider the five most common causes of tinnitus before seeking medical treatment3.

Age- or environment-related hearing loss

Tiny hairs in the inner ear move when they receive sound waves, triggering electrical signals from the ear’s nerve to the brain. As people age, these hair cells known as cochlea become bent or broken. When this happens, the cochlea sends random electrical impulses to the brain, which the brain interprets as sound, causing tinnitus.

Tinnitus is also common for people regularly exposed to loud noise, such as musicians or airplane mechanics. Protecting one’s ears and hearing is critical to avoiding this type of hearing loss which can bring about tinnitus.

Ear infection or ear canal blockage

When ear canals become infected or blocked with earwax, dirt, or foreign objects, the pressure within the ear canal can change. This can lead to tinnitus.

Good hygiene can prevent a buildup of some of this material, but in more serious cases, it is preferable to have a physician remove it.

Head or neck injuries

Trauma to the head or neck can impact the inner ear, hearing nerves, or even the area of the brain that relates to hearing. Typically, tinnitus that results from such an injury only affects one ear.

Medications

Medications that bring on tinnitus include nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), some antibiotics, cancer drugs, diuretics, antimalarial drugs, and antidepressants. Tinnitus caused by medications usually worsens at higher dosages. Decreasing dosage or eliminating the medications altogether typically provides relief.

Ear and sinus infections

Ear or sinus infections2 can lead to temporary tinnitus. Even a common cold can bring on symptoms. However, tinnitus usually resolves when the body heals from the infection.

Less common causes of tinnitus

There are several less common causes of tinnitus including muscle spasms in the inner ear, temporomandibular joint disorder (TMJ), head or neck tumors, ear bone changes, and blood vessel disorders. Additionally, those who suffer from chronic conditions such as diabetes, thyroid issues, migraines, anemia, and autoimmune disorders can experience tinnitus1.

Preventing tinnitus

Utilizing hearing protection4 such as noise-canceling headphones can help prevent tinnitus, especially if the person works in a loud environment. Turning down the volume when listening to music through headphones can also help. As people age, regular exercise, a healthy diet6, and limiting alcohol7, caffeine8, and nicotine5 will lead to a healthier lifestyle and less risk of developing tinnitus.
1  Mayo Clinic Staff, Tinnitus, Retrieved from: Mayo Clinic.Tinnitus - Symptoms and causes - Mayo Clinic
2  Painful Ear Pressure Driving You Mad? Get Some Relief (connecthearing.com)
3  When Should You See a Doctor About Tinnitus? (connecthearing.com)
4  6 Lifestyle Changes for Better Hearing Health (connecthearing.com)
5  Rafieepour, Athena PhD; Dehgahn, Somayeh Farhang PhD; Firoozi, Mahtab BS; Gorji, Rahim MSC; Ardalan, Arash MD; Vaziri, Mohammad Hossein MD, PhD (2022). Study Highlights Impact of Smoking on Hearing Loss Among Workers Exposed to Noise. The Hearing Journal: September 2022 - Volume 75 - Issue 9 - p 24,25,26https://journals.lww.com/thehearingjournal/Fulltext/2022/09000/Study_Highlights_Impact_of_Smoking_on_Hearing_Loss.2.aspx
6  Curhan SG, Wang M, Eavey RD, Stampfer MJ, Curhan GC. J Nutr. (2018) Adherence to Healthful Dietary Patterns Is Associated with Lower Risk of Hearing Loss in Women. The Journal of Nutrition, Volume 148, Issue 6, June 2018, Pages 944–951. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/29757402/
7  Sharon G. Curhan, MD, ScM, Roland Eavey, MD, MS, Josef Shargorodsky, MD, and Gary C. Curhan, MD, (2012) Prospective Study of Alcohol Use and Hearing Loss in Men. Ear Hear. 2011 Feb; 32(1): 46-52. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3009839/
8  Sang-Youp Lee, Gucheol Jung, Myoung-jin Jang, Myung-Whan Suh, Jun Ho Lee,1,3 Seung Ha Oh, and Moo Kyun Park (2018) Association of Coffee Consumption with Hearing and Tinnitus Based on a National Population-Based Survey. Nutrients. 2018 10(10):1429. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6213338/