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Obvious and Not So Obvious Causes of Tinnitus

Updated on December 2, 2011
Tinnitus and Ringing in the Ears
Tinnitus and Ringing in the Ears

Although it isn't often considered a disabling condition, tinnitus can cause significant impairment of your work and recreational activities. Identifying the underlying cause of this condition can relieve symptoms, by directly or indirectly addressing factors that can create tinnitus or make it worse. Even if you're already living with tinnitus, taking steps to avoid potential causes of the condition can decrease the risk of additional damage. Avoiding causes of tinnitus can also decrease the risk of compounding the damage because left unaddressed, damage can make tinnitus more treatment resistant. Causes of tinnitus can be organic, structural, related to illness or can even be caused by the use of certain medications.

Noise Level and Tinnitus

Individuals who work in industrial environments such as factories or in construction are at the highest risk for developing tinnitus. Chronic exposure to loud noises causes damage and destruction to tiny hair-like cells known as cilia that line the walls of your inner ear. Sound, particularly at high levels, causes pulsating waves that are more than the cilia are able to handle. As a result, the cilia begin to become impaired in their ability to properly transmit noise. This can be the first sign of tinnitus.

Organic Health Conditions That Can Cause Tinnitus

Chronic infections in the inner ear or sinuses can lead to damage to the cilia and can lead to tinnitus. Congenital abnormalities of the blood vessels and arteries that run through the neck can cause a pulsating sensation that matches your heartbeat. In addition, blockages in the arteries in the neck caused by the accumulation of plaque or a lodged blood clot can cause tinnitus. Brain tumors that press on areas in or around the ear can cause your brain to misinterpret blood flow or normal sounds as ringing in the ears. Some women may experience tinnitus before and during their monthly menstrual cycle, because of hormonal fluctuations. Finally, an over or underachieve thyroid gland, a condition more commonly experienced by women, can cause tinnitus.

Other, Not-So-Obvious Causes of Tinnitus

Although they aren't always implicated in the development of tinnitus, some prescription or over the counter medications can lead to ringing in the ears. While this may be an indication of a dosage that is too high, it can also occur simply as a reaction by the body to the medication. Requesting a change of dosage or medication can often relieve this type of tinnitus. Oddly enough, tinnitus can both be caused and result from psychological conditions such as anxiety and depression. Both conditions can cause increased sensitivity to sounds which can be misinterpreted as ringing in the ears. Anxiety and depression can also cause your heart rate to rise and your blood vessels to constrict too, and can cause ringing in your ears. A high stress and high sodium diet can also cause blood pressure to rise, leading to a pulsating form of ringing in your ears that might be witnessed by your physician with the placement of a stethoscope.

Treating the cause of tinnitus is specific to the cause of the condition. This is why it's important for your physician to help you determine what has led to the development of tinnitus. Damage to the ears cause by chronically high noise levels are easily identified, although this type of damage cannot always be reversed. Medical conditions such as high blood pressure or thyroid problems can be treated with medications that can address both the condition and the tinnitus it is causing. Stress, anxiety and depression should be treated by a healthcare professional and in nearly all cases, tinnitus caused by these conditions can be successfully relieved.


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