Tinnitus – is a problem affecting millions of people that originates in the outer ear, middle ear, inner ear or the brain. This condition is very frustrating to those afflicted because it manifests itself in a variety of ways, making it difficult to link an exact cause.
The possible sources and characteristics of tinnitus are indicated by the Mayo Clinic. These sources are categorized:
Inner Ear Cell Damage - Is one of the most common causes of tinnitus. There are approximately 30,000 tiny hair cells in the inner ear (cochlea nerve). These inner ear hair cells move from sound wave activity. The movement of these hair cells causes a transmission of an electrical signal from the auditory nerve to your brain. Sound is processed and hearing takes place. If these inner ear hair cells are broken or damaged they can send random electrical impulses to your brain causing tinnitus.
Age Related Loss - Presbycusis is another term for age related hearing loss. Around age 60 hearing worsens. This type of hearing loss can cause tinnitus.
Exposure to Loud Noise - Loud noises from heavy machinery, construction equipment, chain saws and firearms are common causes of hearing loss and can result in tinnitus. iPods or MP3 players, if played loudly for long periods of time can cause tinnitus. Long term exposure to loud noises can cause permanent damage. Attending a concert can produce short term tinnitus which usually subsides.
Ear Wax Blockage - Cerumen (wax) protects your ear canal by collecting dirt and debris, slowing the growth of bacteria. An ear canal completely blocked by wax causes hearing loss and can cause tinnitus.
Ear Bone Changes - Otosclerosis is a condition causing a calcification or stiffening of the bones in your middle ear. It can affect your hearing and cause tinnitus. Otosclerosis is caused by abnormal bone growth and is hereditary.
Less Common Causes of Tinnitus
Ménière's Disease - Is an inner ear disorder characterized by a combination of hearing loss, vertigo and tinnitus.
Stress/Depression - Tinnitus is a common symptom of stress and depression. Tinnitus is often aggravated by these conditions.
TMJ Disorders - Temperomandibular joint disorder which affects the joint on each side of your head in front of your ears can cause tinnitus.
Head or Neck Injuries - A neurological disorder can affect the inner ear, hearing nerves or brain function. These injuries most commonly cause tinnitus in only one ear.
Acoustic Neuroma - A non cancerous (benign) tumor also called vestibular schwannoma, that develops on the cranial nerve that runs from your brain to your inner ear. This type of tumor will significantly affect balance and hearing. Tinnitus is normally evidenced in one ear.
Radiation Therapy - Radiation treatment to the head or neck can cause tinnitus
Malformation of Capillaries - The connections between veins and arteries can sometimes be malformed causing a condition called AVM - Arteriovenous Malformation. This condition can cause tinnitus generally noticed in only one ear.
Middle Ear Myoclonus - A very rare condition whereby tinnitus is objective or heard by the patient as well as the practitioner. It is caused by repetitive contractions of the middle ear muscles; the stapedius and tensor tympani. In this instance tinnitus can sound like buzzing, rumbling or crackling. Although there are only a few cases documented (Golz,Fradis,Netze,Ridder,Westerman and Joachims) in the United States, it can generally be corrected with a surgical procedure. As indicated by the aforementioned, relief in some cases comes instantly.
Medications - Many medications cause or worsen tinnitus. Typically, the higher the dose, the more prominent the effects. Some known medications that cause or worsen tinnitus are:
Cancer Medications - Treatment/Therapy
Diuretics – Fluid reduction medications "Water pills"
Quinine - Treatment of Malaria or Leg Cramps
Chlorqine - Treatment of Rheumatoid Arthritis and Prevention of Malaria
Aspirin - In very high doses
Antidepressants - MAOI, Tricyclic and SSRI
Nonsteroidal Antiinflammatory Medications (NSAIDS) - Advil, Aleve, Anaprox, Clinoril, Feldene, Indocin, Lodine, Motrin, Nalfon, Naprosyn, Nuprin, Poradol, Voltarin are examples of this type of medication.
Birth Control Pills - Hormone therapy.
Blood Pressure Medications - The treatment of high blood pressure
Caffeine – Can make tinnitus worse
Factors that Increase the Risk of Tinnitus
Age - 60 and over
Gender - Males are more likely to develop tinnitus
Alcohol - moderate to high levels of use
Heart / Vascular Disorders - High or low blood pressure, Hardening of the arteries (arteriosclerosis), Anemia, Vascular tumor, Aneurysm, or Turbulent blood flow
Loud Noise Exposure
Tinnitus Sounds and What They Mean
Clicking - Contractions of the tensor tympani muscle in the middle ear
Buzzing - Contractions of the stapedius muscle
Rushing / Humming - Usually vascular in nature
Hearbeat - Hearing your hearbeat is an indication of blood vessel problems; high blood presure, aneurysm, tumor, blockage of the ear canal or eustachian tube
Low Pitched Ringing - Can be a sign of Menier's Disease
Continuous High Pitched Ringing - Permanent long-term noise exposure, age related hearing loss, medication or acoustic neuroma (benign tumor)