What Causes Tinnitus

Most commonly, tinnitus is a consequence of a change in auditory function. This change may occur as a result of a variety of conditions, including chronic systemic disease, genetic predisposition, impacted cerumen (earwax), noise exposure, or use of ototoxic medications. In rare cases, underlying medical conditions can cause tinnitus. Interestingly, research has shown that up to 95 percent of young normal-hearing adults will experience tinnitus in certain conditions.

This change, or decrease, in input from the peripheral auditory system is thought to increase activity in the central auditory system. This increase in neural activity is interpreted by the brain as sound. The brain may perceive the sound only in very quiet environments or throughout most of the day, even in more complex listening settings. Continued awareness of the tinnitus can result in emotional disturbance, such as irritation, frustration, or anger.

If tinnitus affects your quality of life by reducing your sleep, affecting your performance at work, making tasks in your everyday life less enjoyable, or reducing your ability to concentrate, you may benefit from intervention.  The first step is to see an audiologist who can visually inspect your ears and evaluate your hearing. In most cases, an audiologist is the most skilled and appropriate professional to evaluate and manage the problem. If your tinnitus is potentially caused by an underlying medical condition, we will make an appropriate medical referral.

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