The causes of tinnitus and how to stop ringing in your ears
- Ringing in ears is typically tinnitus, which causes you to hear buzzing sounds that aren't there.
- It can be caused by taking certain medications, a blockage in your ear, or a sinus infection.
- But it can also be a sign of a serious issue like
hearingloss or a traumatic brain injury.
If you hear ringing in your ears, chances are that it's tinnitus. Tinnitus is when you perceive a sound, typically a ringing or buzzing, in your ears when there's no source for the sound nearby. You basically hear sounds that aren't actually there.
Sometimes tinnitus is a temporary symptom from an obstruction in your ear and will go away after you remove the obstruction. But, in other cases, tinnitus can be chronic, and there's no way to treat it.
While there are hundreds of causes of tinnitus, here are six of the most common and whether they're treatable, or not.
1. Obstruction in ear
You may experience tinnitus if your ear canal becomes blocked with earwax, dirt, or other material.
A blockage can cause pressure to build up in the inner part of the ear. It could also touch your sensitive eardrum — either of which can cause ringing in your ears.
Removing the blockage will often stop any ringing. But sometimes, severe blockages can cause permanent damage leading to chronic tinnitus.
2. Hearing loss
You have sensitive hair cells in your ear that send electrical signals to your brain which you interpret as sound.
These hair cells can break when you expose yourself to loud noises, Or they can get damaged over time, as a result of aging.
"Since there is not a clear auditory connection to the brain, the brain will produce phantom signals to make up for missing input," says Shelley Borgia, AudD, Chief Medical Correspondent at Lipo-Flavonoid.
If you think you are experiencing hearing loss, contact your doctor who can refer you to an audiologist to evaluate your condition and determine treatment.
3. Ear and sinus infections
Many people will experience tinnitus when they have an ear infection, sinus infection, or cold.
These infections can cause sinus fluid to build up in the ear, triggering a change in pressure that causes tinnitus.
"Ear infections often cause the area behind the eardrum to swell or build up fluid, which causes a temporary hearing loss," says Hadassah Kupfer, AuD, an audiologist and adjunct faculty at the City University of New York's Audiology Graduate Program. "This typically resolves after the infection goes away."
4. Certain medications
Ototoxic medications are a class of drugs known to damage the ear and cause hearing loss. These drugs are a common cause of hearing loss among older populations.
Hearing loss and tinnitus caused by ototoxic medications often develop quickly, and side effects typically go away when you stop taking the medication.
There are more than 200 known ototoxic medications, including:
- Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) including aspirin, ibuprofen, and naproxen when taken in large doses (8 to 12 pills a day)
- Certain antibiotics, especially aminoglycosides
- Loop diuretics such as furosemide (Lasix) or bumetanide.
- Cancer-treating medications, including cyclophosphamide, cisplatin, and bleomycin.
Tinnitus and other hearing-related side effects are more likely if you're taking two or more of these medications at a time or if you have certain medical conditions such as kidney or liver disease that affects the clearance of these medications from the body.
5. Temporomandibular joint dysfunction
Tinnitus may be caused by Temporomandibular joint dysfunction, a painful condition causing jaw pain, popping sounds while chewing and talking, and limited jaw movement.
The temporomandibular joint (TMJ) is a large joint connecting the lower jaw to the skull. Because the TMJ is adjacent to your ear's auditory system and shares nerve connections with your ear, damage to the muscles, ligaments, or cartilage in the TMJ can cause tinnitus symptoms.
"The tension in the jaw is physically connected with the ear, which may 'choke off' certain sounds going to the brain," Kupfer says.
6. Traumatic brain injury
Traumatic brain injury (TBI) is a major cause of tinnitus, particularly in military and veteran populations.
TBI usually results from a sudden, violent blow or jolt to the head or body. When this happens, your brain's auditory processing center can become damaged and tinnitus symptoms may occur.
Treatment for chronic tinnitus typically involves sound therapy and sometimes can include the use of hearing aids or devices that suppress noise and make symptoms less noticeable.
Counseling in the form of tinnitus retraining therapy (TRT) or cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) may help you manage your symptoms and feel less distressed.
"If tinnitus lasts for greater than 5 minutes at a time, and becomes bothersome, it is a good idea to see a doctor to investigate possible hearing loss and confirm that it is a stable, benign condition, which it usually is," Kupfer says. "If one starts to become withdrawn or suicidal due to their tinnitus, they should seek professional help immediately."
Tinnitus is the sensation of hearing noises that do not have an external cause. It's a common symptom of hearing loss but can also be caused by ear infections, certain medications, and certain jaw and brain conditions. In the case of chronic tinnitus, treatments including sound therapy, hearing aids, or talk therapy can help patients manage symptoms.
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