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What are Tinnitus Causes?

By Steve R.
Updated May 17, 2024
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Tinnitus is classified as a ringing sound in the ears. Fairly common, tinnitus affects nearly one out of five people and typically occurs as people get older. While generally considered to be annoying, tinnitus is usually not serious and can be cleared up. Tinnitus causes often include exposure to loud noises, reactions to certain types of medication or illnesses, and the normal aging process.

Tinnitus causes are often related to contact with loud sounds. When an individual is constantly exposed to loud noises, the tiny hairs inside the ear can bend or even break. When this occurs, the small hairs arbitrarily send electrical impulses to the brain even if no sound has been detected. Upon receiving these signals, the brain deciphers them as ringing noises.

Another common cause for ringing in the ears is aging, referred to medically as presbycusis. As people advance in age, neurotransmitters called glycine become lost, causing havoc with the body's neurons. This chaos causes the neurons to flare up unexpectedly, resulting in tinnitus. Presbycusis often begins around the age of 60.

Tinnitus causes may also be associated with the intake of various medications. Medications that may cause tinnitus include aspirin, quinine, diuretics, cancer medication, and antibiotics. Typically, the larger the dose, the more intense the tinnitus becomes. The ringing in the ear generally ceases once an individual stops taking the medications.

When cholesterol builds up in the body, particularly around the major blood vessels near the middle and inner ear, tinnitus may occur. The accumulation of cholesterol and other deposits near the ear causes the surrounding blood vessels to decrease in flexibility. This results in the blood flow around the ears becoming more vigorous, causing the individual to hear a beating sound.

Tinnitus causes may also be ear-related. Sometimes earwax builds up, and when too much of it is trapped in the ear, it becomes difficult to remove naturally. This increase of earwax results in hearing loss or irritates the eardrum, producing a ringing noise. Also, when the bones inside the ear become abnormally more rigid, it also affects hearing and may cause tinnitus.

Certain medical conditions may also bring on tinnitus. Neurological damage caused by a head or neck injury may affect hearing nerves, the inner ear, or functioning related to hearing and produce a ringing sound in the ear. This usually results in tinnitus in just one ear. Stress and depression are also conditions that typically exacerbate ringing in the ear. Disorders of the temporomandibular joint, which is located in the jaw, may also produce muscle spasms resulting in tinnitus.

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