Listening to a humming, buzzing, or ringing without being able to stop the noise, is almost enough to drive anyone crazy. Now, imagine that noise occurring internally, inside your head, and you don’t know where it’s coming from or why. This is what people who suffer from tinnitus (from the Latin verb tinnire, to ring) experience. Some sufferers describe their tinnitus as sounding like sirens, whooshing, static, crickets, pulsing, buzzing, clicking, ocean waves, dial tones, or even music. For some, their tinnitus comes and goes and is temporary; for others, it’s permanent.
According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control, nearly 50 million Americans – about 15% of the population – experience some form of tinnitus with 2 million of them being extreme and debilitating cases. And in many cases the exact cause in never known.
What causes tinnitus?
According to the Mayo Clinic, tinnitus is usually caused by one of the following conditions:
- Exposure to loud noise – Tinnitus can be caused by even short term exposure to loud noises such as when one attends a loud concert or from other sources like chain saws, firearms, and heavy equipment. When short term exposure develops tinnitus, it usually subsides after a period away from the noise. Sometimes, it can cause permanent hearing damage when continued exposure to loud noise is the cause.
- Age-related hearing loss – Hearing worsens with age for many people and usually begins around age 60, a type of hearing loss medical professionals call presbycusis. This hearing loss can also cause tinnitus.
- Ear bone changes – Otosclerosis, a condition that stiffens the bones on the middle ear and can affect your hearing as well as cause tinnitus. This condition is caused by abnormal bone growth and usually runs in families.
- Earwax blockage – When too much earwax accumulates, it becomes too hard to wash away naturally and can cause hearing loss or irritation of the eardrum which in turn can lead to tinnitus.
- Meniere’s disease – Is caused by abnormal inner ear fluid pressure. Tinnitus can be an early indicator of this disease which can also include vertigo.
- TMJ disorders – The joint on each side of your head in front of your ears where your lower jawbone meets your skull is called the temporomandibular joint.
- Head or neck trauma – These injuries can affect inner ear hearing nerves and brain function linked to hearing. Usually, the tinnitus is in one ear.
- Acoustic neuroma – A benign tumor can develop on the cranial nerve that runs from your brain to your inner ear which controls balance and hearing and can cause tinnitus. Again, this usually only develops in one ear.
- Medications – Some medications can cause tinnitus. These medications include cancer drugs, antidepressants, diuretics, antibiotics, and even aspirin if 12 or more are taken daily.
- Blood flow issues – High blood pressure and malformed capillaries can cause tinnitus.
If this information is ringing any bells for you, you may have tinnitus and should contact your physician. The different causes of tinnitus will require different medical interventions and the sooner you begin treatment, the better.
1. Tinnitus . The Mayo Clinic.
2. Demographics. American Tinnitus Association.
3. Statistics about the Public Health Burden of Noise-Induced Hearing Loss. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.