What Causes Tinnitus?

At Alberta Hearing Service we believe that sound plays an important role in connecting us to our world, but sometimes those sounds can cause long term damage, and cause tinnitus. According to Statistics Canada, tinnitus (hissing, buzzing, ringing, clicking, rushing or roaring sounds in the ears when no external sound is present) has been experienced by 42 percent of Canadians aged 3 to 79. Among these people, approximately 1 in 5 reported that the tinnitus was severe enough that it affected their sleep, concentration, or mood.

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According to the Mayo Clinic, this phantom noise may vary in pitch from a low roar to a high squeal, and you may hear it in one or both ears. In some cases, the sound can be so loud it can interfere with your ability to concentrate or hear actual sound. Tinnitus may be present all the time, or it may come and go. There are two kinds of tinnitus:

  • Subjective tinnitus is the most common type of tinnitus that only you can hear. It can be caused by ear problems in your outer, middle or inner ear, or the auditory nerve.
  • Objective tinnitus is tinnitus your doctor can hear when he or she does an examination. This rare type of tinnitus may be caused by a blood vessel problem, a middle ear bone condition or muscle contractions.

If you are experiencing any symptoms of tinnitus, expect a complete exam of the ear, head, neck, and torso, as well as thorough hearing testing, laboratory (blood) tests and, in some cases, imaging studies as part of the tinnitus work-up. If you have tinnitus that bothers you, see your doctor as soon as possible if:

  • You develop tinnitus after an upper respiratory infection, such as a cold, and your tinnitus doesn’t improve within a week;
  • You have tinnitus that occurs suddenly or without an apparent cause; or
  • You have hearing loss or dizziness with the tinnitus.

Tinnitus can be caused by broken or damaged hairs on auditory cells, turbulence in a carotid artery or jugular vein, temporomandibular joint (TMJ) issues, and problems in the auditory processing pathways of the brain. A number of health conditions can cause or worsen tinnitus. In many cases, an exact cause is never found. Common causes of tinnitus include:

  • Inner ear cell damage – if the hairs inside your inner ear are bent or broken, they can “leak” random electrical impulses to your brain, causing tinnitus.
  • Age-related hearing loss – usually starting around age 60, hearing loss can cause tinnitus. The medical term for this type of hearing loss is presbycusis.
  • Exposure to loud noise – loud music, heavy equipment, chain saws and firearms, are common sources of noise-related hearing loss. Of Canadians aged 16 to 79, 42 percent have worked or currently work in an environment where it is required to speak in a raised voice to communicate with someone standing an arm’s length away. Fifty three percent of Canadians aged 3 to 79 have used earbuds or headphones to listen to various audio types in the last 12 months, which can cause noise-related hearing loss when played loudly for long periods.
  • Earwax blockage – when too much earwax accumulates, it becomes too hard to wash away naturally, causing hearing loss or irritation of the eardrum, which can lead to tinnitus.
  • Ear bone changes – otosclerosis, stiffening of the bones in your middle ear, is caused by abnormal bone growth, tends to run in families.

Whether you think you might have tinnitus or if you just need an annual hearing test, take the first step is to schedule a convenient appointment in the Kingsway Professional Centre at 780-423-0886, and the Tawa Centre at 780-469-8372. Third Party Billings available to Alberta Aids to Daily Living, WCB, DVA, NIHB and Insurance Companies.