Whilst we do not know the exact answer to what causes tinnitus, we know that it is not a disease or an illness. It is generally agreed that tinnitus results from some type of change, either mental or physical, not necessarily related to hearing.
When we hear, sound travels into the ear and then the hearing nerves take the signals to the brain. The brain is then responsible for putting it all together and making sense of the sound. Because the ears don’t know what’s important and what’s not, they send a lot of information to the brain. This is too much information for us to process, so the brain filters out a lot of unnecessary ‘activity’ and background sound, such as clocks ticking or traffic noise.
If there is a change in the system, for example, a hearing loss or ear infection, the amount of information being sent to the brain changes. The brain then responds to this change in levels by trying to get more information from the ear, and the extra information you may get is the sound we call tinnitus. The tinnitus is therefore actually brain activity and not the ear itself! It is generally accepted that it isn’t only a change in the ear that can result in tinnitus, but it could be due to a change in our stress levels, for example, with tinnitus being noticed after periods of significant stress, a change in life circumstances or general wellbeing.
Fortunately, tinnitus is rarely an indication of a serious disorder and a doctor will be able to check this for you.
The brain’s sound-processing system produces the noises associated with tinnitus. It does so in response to various causes, including damage to the inner ear and hearing impairments.
Cumulative noise exposure from listening to loud music on earphones or ear buds
Wax build-up in the ear canal
Ear or sinus infections
Misaligned jaw joints
Neck or head trauma, such as a concussion
Second-hand smoke exposure
Chemotherapy, certain antibiotics, aspirin or other medications that can damage the inner ear
Ear injuries, such as from poking an object too far into the ear
Acquired hearing loss
Congenital hearing loss
Abnormal growth of the middle ear bones