What Are the Causes of Tinnitus?

The causes of tinnitus are varied. It's a symptom characterized by a persistent sound that is perceived without external causes. Finding its origin is the key to treatment.
What Are the Causes of Tinnitus?
Leonardo Biolatto

Written and verified by the doctor Leonardo Biolatto.

Last update: 15 December, 2022

In order to talk about the causes of tinnitus, it’s necessary to understand that tinnitus is a symptom and not a condition in itself. It’s a sign that shows that there’s some underlying disorder that is producing it.

In medical terms, tinnitus is a noise that is experienced in the ear as a persistent ringing or whistling sound. It doesn’t come from an external source, and so its existence causes discomfort in the person who suffers from it, who can’t understand where it’s coming from.

Causes of tinnitus

As we have already mentioned, the causes of tinnitus are varied because we’re dealing with a symptom, not a disease in itself. Both damage to the ear and the use of certain medications are associated with the appearance of the persistent sound.

Damage to the ear

The ear has three main parts: outer, middle, and inner. The outer area is basically the ear and the ear canal leading to the eardrum. Inside the eardrum there’s an anatomical area in the form of a box that makes up the middle ear. Then, further inside, we find the connections with the nervous system that will carry the information to the brain.

The anatomy of the human ear.

If the middle or inner ear is damaged, for whatever reason, it can lead to tinnitus. These conditions are divided into those that affect the conduction of sound waves, such as a disorder of the ossicles, or neural interpretation, in the brain.

Tumors are a serious oncological reason that should be detected early. Many of them grow slowly but continuously. Sometimes, the perceived hissing sound is caused by the pressure of tumor cells against the acoustic nerve.

More internal and more difficult to detect is the death of neuronal cells due to a stroke. The sequelae of strokes include hearing loss and tinnitus. This will depend, to a large extent, on the location of the hemorrhage or arterial obstruction, initially.

Long exposures to intense noise

People who work with noisy machinery or in environments with high decibel output for a large part of the day, are likely to suffer from this whistling sound outside their working hours. This is the case for hydraulic breaker operators, for example.

Damage has also been reported when listening to loud music with headphones. In a sense, for disc-jockeys, it’s an occupational disease.

These causes of tinnitus can result in transient or persistent and chronic disorders. Treatment always consists of reducing exposure to the noise or removing the individual from the noxious environment for a prolonged period of time.


Some tablets.

Drugs that cause tinnitus do so because they have ototoxicity as an adverse effect. This is the ability to damage the ear at different levels after taking them. It isn’t always a matter of dosage, although the risk increases when the recommended values of treatment are exceeded.

Among the most commonly used ototoxic drugs we can mention the following:

  • Loop diuretics: These are drugs for arterial hypertension that can be consumed on their own or combined with other antihypertensive drugs.
  • Chloroquine: As a drug for malaria, its use is widespread in the world.
  • Gentamicin: This is perhaps the antibiotic most associated with ototoxicity. It can be used according to the protocols of use, but when it’s prescribed beyond the safety margin, the ears can suffer.
  • Aspirin: Acetylsalicylic acid can cause tinnitus if taken inappropriately for many months, exceeding 10 intakes per day.

Temporomandibular joint disorders

The joint between the lower jaw and the temporal bone of the skull is the one that allows chewing. Along with this mechanism, the masseter muscle ensures that the mouth opens and closes with the mobilization of the jaw.
In people with bruxism, which is the pathological nocturnal clenching of the teeth, the joint enters into a state of dysfunction. It doesn’t close as it should, the surrounding soft tissues become inflamed, and the central axis it sits on is lost.

As the area near the ear becomes inflamed, the structures linked to the outer and middle ear also become inflamed as a result. This can cause tinnitus in some patients.

The same applies to intense cervical contractures whose contractions move towards the frontal area, thus affecting the lower jaw. Also due to proximity, the ear becomes inflamed and internal noises are produced that don’t have anything to do with any external source of sound.

How to prevent the causes of tinnitus

A woman with closed eyes.

Preventing the causes of tinnitus isn’t easy because its manifestation and origins are varied. However, general measures can be taken to reduce possible damage and protect the ears.

Among these measures is the control of exposure to intense noise. Certain jobs require specialized hearing protection to reduce the decibels that enter the tympanic membrane, through ear protectors.

On the other hand, when symptoms appear and persist, it’s essential to consult with a doctor. Serious issues such as a tumor of the auditory nerve can be detected with complementary imaging methods that account for the disorder.

If you suffer from bruxism, you’ll probably have auditory symptoms if you don’t look for a solution. Don’t let it evolve. Consult your dentist, who may prescribe a nighttime relaxation plate, for example, to reduce friction.

The discomfort of tinnitus alters your quality of life and, in some people, leads to mood changes or depression. It’s best to seek an early diagnosis in order to find a solution.

All cited sources were thoroughly reviewed by our team to ensure their quality, reliability, currency, and validity. The bibliography of this article was considered reliable and of academic or scientific accuracy.

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This text is provided for informational purposes only and does not replace consultation with a professional. If in doubt, consult your specialist.