what is the cause of tinnitus

Today, let’s talk about the cause of tinnitus and why you have ringing, buzzing, or roaring noise in your ears.

According to the American Tinnitus Association (ATA), about 15% of the American population report some form of tinnitus, and 30% of people with tinnitus reported that their tinnitus is a “moderate” to “very big” problem in their lives.

That means about 15 million Americans are feeling anxious, frustrated, or stressed because they hear some form of ringing in the ears. This can feel isolating, but remember that you’re far from alone. 

The most common cause of tinnitus is damage to the cells in your hearing sensory organ, called the cochlea. Most people have tinnitus that sounds like high-pitched ringing. Why is that? 

Why You Hear Ringing in Your Ears

Due to the anatomy of the cochlea, the high frequency region is the most sensitive to loud noise exposure. The cochlea is supposed to process high pitch / high frequency / treble sounds through the auditory nerve to the auditory brain / auditory cortex. 

In most cases, the cause of tinnitus is from prolonged loud noise exposure, this could be from music, loud machinery, power tools, gunfire, or other causes. 

I also have patients tell me that their tinnitus began suddenly after a loud noise. They got tinnitus from either glass breaking, being close to a gunshot, blowing out a speaker at a music venue, or many other reasons. How did you get your tinnitus? Leave a comment on this video below to let us know.

Sudden loud noise exposure damages the high-frequency regions of your cochlea and causes a high-pitch ringing noise, typically in both ears. 80% of people with tinnitus have hearing loss that shows up on a standard hearing test. 

Unfortunately, hearing damage to the cochlea is typically permanent. There is no cure for restoring the damaged cells. Although there is no way to get back the hearing that was lost, there is A LOT you can do for your tinnitus right now and moving forward. 

What Can You Do For Tinnitus?

Don’t let anyone tell you that there is nothing you can do. They are wrong. Even if you go to your trusted primary doctor, or a well-known ENT doctor in your area, and they tell you that there is nothing they can do about your tinnitus and you just have to live with it…they are wrong.

As a tinnitus specialist in California, I hear this story all too often. On this channel, I am here to teach you what your other doctors simply have not learned. You can make significant progress on improving the loudness of your tinnitus and the stress it causes. I speak from experience working with patients at one of the best medical hospitals in California. 

Other than permanent damage to the hearing organ, the cause of tinnitus can also be from temporary hearing loss due to ear wax, ear infections, or a perforation in the eardrum.

I recommend that you make an appointment with an otologist (a medical ear doctor) if you experience any of the following: asymmetrical tinnitus (the noise is louder in one ear than the other), ear pain, dizziness, vertigo, or facial numbness. 

A few years ago, I was at a tinnitus conference in California, and the lecturer made a point that I will always remember. They said, the key to improving your tinnitus is stress. Let’s explore what this means for you.

Is It Normal to Hear Tinnitus?

When you start to hear tinnitus, it’s normal to be worried and wonder, what’s the cause? The mind can travel into a state of fear, making up a story about the worst case scenario. This is a normal psychological process. Our evolutionary biology evolved to be on high alert when we are faced with a threat. 

Some degree of stress is normal and expected. Tinnitus can become a chronic long-term condition when you don’t have the right guidance from your doctor and don’t have the right tools to reduce the hyper-sensitive stress response caused by your tinnitus.

There are two things you need to know about tinnitus. 

First, your tinnitus will sound louder in a quiet place, like when you are going to sleep or on a hike in nature. 

Second, your tinnitus may sound louder when you are stressed, sad, or angry. Tinnitus can be a sort of stress thermometer. If your tinnitus is particularly loud or bothersome, it’s a sign that another area of your life needs attention and care. This could be related to family, relationships, a mid life crisis, or any other reason. 

I often hear from people, “Wow, I had no idea that my tinnitus is related to my stress, my emotions, and other parts of my life.” So, why is that?

Stress and tinnitus.

Your brain has three parts. The brainstem, mid-brain, and cortex. The emotional centers of your mid-brain are regulated by stress from your internal and external well-being. If you are feeling a powerful emotion, a part of your mid-brain called the limbic system will be activated.

The limbic system network is connected to your auditory brain. Therefore, the two areas are inter-connected. When your limbic system excites in a response to stress, then the tinnitus in your auditory brain becomes louder.

So if your tinnitus bothers you, what can you do about it? Well, the truth is, there is no magic pill or herbal supplement independently approved by the FDA. There is no quick fix. 

You have probably seen some tinnitus pills advertised on the internet. If they work for you, that’s great but it’s probably a placebo effect. I don’t recommend buying any pills for tinnitus. Tinnitus recovery takes gentle effort.

So, you might have Worry / Concern / Stress towards what might happen with your tinnitus. We develop fear about the unknown effects of tinnitus. These are VALID concerns.

Is tinnitus a symptom of something more serious? Probably not

Will I have this forever? Maybe

In my personal experience, my tinnitus can be louder if I had poor sleep the night before, or if I am worried or stressed about my job, my relationships, politics, have not exercised or practiced my daily meditation.

What Can You Do For Tinnitus?

Let’s talk about what you can do about your tinnitus and next steps to move forward. Speak with your doctor, considering getting a hearing test, especially if tinnitus is louder in one ear or sounds like a heartbeat. Monitor your tinnitus for two weeks to see if it gets worse when you are more stressed and better when you feeling more relaxed.

We have a 2-minute tinnitus questionnaire to diagnose what degree of problem you have. I highly recommend it. Follow this link and select the Tinnitus Handicap Inventory (THI).

When you’re ready, you can learn management strategies to help your tinnitus. First, sound therapy and controlling the noise in your external world. Second, learning how to manage and observe your mind internally. My experience with tinnitus has led me to a fascination with psychology, neuroplasticity, and mindfulness.

That’s all I have for today, and remember, take this journey one step at a time.

Dr. Ben Thompson, Au.D.

Dr. Ben Thompson, Au.D.

Dr. Ben Thompson is an audiologist in California and founder of Pure Tinnitus. Dr. Thompson has a comprehensive knowledge of tinnitus management. He completed his residency at University of California at San Francisco (UCSF) and is a past board member of the California Academy of Audiology. Via telehealth, Dr. Thompson provides services to patients with hearing loss and tinnitus.

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