Ringing in the Ears: What Causes Tinnitus and How to Manage It?

Tinnitus is a prevalent auditory condition characterized by the perception of sound in the absence of external stimuli. Often described as ringing in the ears, tinnitus sounds can range from buzzing, hissing, and whistling to roaring, clicking, and popping. Affecting an estimated 50 million Americans, tinnitus is more commonly observed in older adults, although it can impact individuals of all ages. Understanding what causes tinnitus is crucial for effective management and treatment, as the condition can arise from various factors such as age, exposure to loud noises, and underlying medical issues.

Symptoms of Tinnitus

While the primary symptom of tinnitus is auditory phantom sounds, its manifestations can vary greatly. You may perceive these noises in one or both ears or even within your head. The sounds can differ in pitch, volume, and duration. Here are the varied symptoms you might experience:

  • Buzzing: A consistent, low-pitched sound.
  • Hissing: Resembles the sound of steam or air escaping.
  • Whistling: A high-pitched tone often constant in nature.
  • Roaring: An intense, overwhelming sound.
  • Clicking/Popping: Short bursts of sound that may be intermittent.
  • Whooshing: Resembling the sound of wind or rushing water.
  • Humming: A constant low or mid-pitched noise.
  • Musical Notes: While uncommon, melodic or tonal sounds are also possible. 

An ear with different kinds of sound waves going out from and into it.

Ringing in Ears Causes Other Issues 

Tinnitus can also interfere with daily life, causing issues such as:

  • Difficulty in Sleeping
  • Concentration Challenges
  • Anxiety and Depression
  • Irritability

Understanding these symptoms is the first step toward identifying and managing your condition. Next, we delve into what causes tinnitus, aiming to offer insights into its root causes and potential treatments.

What Causes Tinnitus

While the precise origins of tinnitus remain elusive, various factors contribute to its onset. These range from exposure to loud noises and medications to underlying chronic conditions. Let’s delve into these causes to better understand what triggers this condition.

Common Tinnitus Causes:

  • Noise Exposure: One of the primary ringing in ears causes, noise-induced tinnitus often stems from exposure to loud environments, such as concerts, workplaces, or military settings.
  • Hearing Loss: Strongly linked to tinnitus, age-related or noise-induced hearing loss can precipitate the condition, although not everyone with hearing loss experiences tinnitus.
  • Medications: High doses of certain drugs like NSAIDs, antibiotics, and antidepressants can trigger tinnitus as a side effect.
  • Ear Blockages: An accumulation of earwax or a bacterial infection can obstruct the ear canal, leading to tinnitus symptoms.
  • Head or Neck Injuries: Trauma to the head, neck, or ears can damage auditory structures or pathways, inducing tinnitus.

Learn more about age-related hearing loss

Less Common Risk Factors for Tinnitus:

  • Ménière’s Disease: An inner ear disorder that causes balance and hearing issues and tinnitus.
  • Jaw Issues: Problems with the jaw joint, such as clenching or grinding, can exacerbate tinnitus symptoms due to the joint’s proximity to the ear.
  • Tumor-Related Disorders: Benign tumors like vestibular schwannomas, along with other head and neck tumors, can result in tinnitus.
  • Vascular Issues: Conditions affecting blood flow, like high blood pressure or atherosclerosis, can alter circulation and bring on tinnitus.
  • Chronic Conditions: Tinnitus is associated with various long-term illnesses, such as diabetes, thyroid disorders, and autoimmune diseases like lupus.

Theories on What Causes Tinnitus:

Tinnitus is largely considered a brain-centric issue. One prominent theory suggests that damage to the inner ear alters the nerve signals sent to the brain’s auditory cortex, creating the perception of phantom noise. Further research shows that the auditory cortex’s interaction with non-auditory brain regions controlling attention and emotion may also contribute to tinnitus.

By recognizing these factors, individuals can better understand what causes tinnitus and seek appropriate treatment.

Treating the Causes of Tinnitus

Managing tinnitus effectively often involves a multi-faceted approach tailored to the underlying causes and individual symptoms. While no universal cure exists, several treatment options can make the condition less bothersome and improve your quality of life.

Addressing Underlying Causes

If your tinnitus stems from an identifiable health issue, treating that condition can often alleviate symptoms. For example:

  • Earwax Removal: Excess earwax can worsen tinnitus. Its removal can offer relief.
  • Blood Vessel Treatments: Medications or surgeries can address underlying blood vessel conditions.
  • Hearing Aids: Noise-induced or age-related hearing loss can exacerbate tinnitus. Hearing aids may help.
  • Medication Changes: If a specific drug causes your symptoms, your doctor might recommend an alternative.

Noise Suppression Techniques

When a cure isn’t possible, noise suppression can make symptoms less intrusive:

White Noise Machines: These devices emit sounds like falling rain or static, aiding sleep and daily life.Masking Devices: Similar to hearing aids, these in-ear devices produce low-level white noise to suppress tinnitus.

Behavioral and Sound Therapies

Counseling and sound therapies can teach coping skills:

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT): CBT focuses on changing how you think about and respond to tinnitus. Tinnitus Retraining Therapy (TRT): This approach combines counseling and sound therapy to make tinnitus less noticeable.

Medications and Alternative Therapies

No FDA-approved medications treat tinnitus, but some may improve related symptoms like sleep quality or mood. Alternative therapies like acupuncture haven’t proven effective but remain options for some. Stress management through biofeedback or mindfulness techniques can also help.

Combining these approaches may offer the best relief, given that tinnitus varies greatly among individuals. Although treatments like ginkgo biloba and acupuncture lack supporting evidence, some people find them helpful. Overall, behavioral strategies and sound-generating devices often prove the most effective. 

After exploring various treatment options, you may find that hearing aids are crucial to your tinnitus management strategy. In the following section, we’ll delve into the best hearing aids designed specifically to alleviate tinnitus symptoms.

An audiologist shows several different types of hearing aids.

What Are the Best Hearing Aids for Tinnitus?

When it comes to managing tinnitus symptoms alongside hearing loss, hearing aids play a pivotal role. They not only amplify surrounding sounds but also mask tinnitus, making it less noticeable. Understanding how they can specifically aid in tinnitus relief is crucial for making an informed decision.

Key Features of The Best Hearing Aids for Tinnitus

When selecting a hearing aid to manage tinnitus, it’s crucial to consider various features that can significantly impact your experience.

  • Sound Processing: A device with more channels will offer a listening experience that’s closer to how your natural hearing works. 
  • Automatic Adjustments are especially beneficial for those who deal with tinnitus continuously. Automatic adjustments allow your hearing aids to adapt to various sound environments, making daily transitions seamless.
  • Customization: Personalized settings make all the difference. A hearing specialist can fine-tune your hearing aid to precisely match your hearing loss and tinnitus frequencies.
  • In-Person Support: A comprehensive care package often accompanies prescription hearing aids. This package generally includes cleanings, maintenance, and further adjustments.


Recommended Hearing Aid Brands for Tinnitus Management

Considering the key features mentioned above, several brands stand out for their capabilities in managing tinnitus.

  • Phonak: Phonak excels in offering high-quality sound. Its devices are often powered by advanced AI technology, adapting well to different sound environments.
  • ReSound: ReSound specializes in robust tinnitus-masking features. These are integrated into their hearing aids or come as separate apps that play fractal tones, helping to distract from tinnitus sounds.
  • Starkey: Starkey provides an all-encompassing app designed for tinnitus management. This app enables users to adjust settings that can be particularly helpful for dealing with tinnitus symptoms.

By considering these key features and recommended brands, you can make a more informed choice that suits both your tinnitus management needs and lifestyle preferences. Knowing the best hearing aids for tinnitus will help you have a more productive conversation with your hearing care specialist.

Two older couples toast each other around a table.

Get Help for Tinnitus

Understanding and managing tinnitus involves a comprehensive approach. You need to identify what causes tinnitus and explore various treatment options. Consider American Hearing and Audiology for personalized care and the best hearing aids for tinnitus relief. Take the first step towards a better quality of life by scheduling a consultation today.