While the exact causes of tinnitus are not fully understood, it has been linked to the following:
Noise exposure. Many people experience tinnitus after being exposed to loud noise in a workplace setting or at a sporting event or concert. Tinnitus is also the most common service-related disability among veterans because of loud noise they may have experienced from gunfire, machinery, bomb blasts, or other similar sources.
Hearing loss. Hearing loss, which can be caused by factors such as aging or exposure to loud noise, is strongly associated with tinnitus. Some people with hearing loss, however, never develop tinnitus.
Medications. Tinnitus can be a side effect of taking certain medications, especially if they are taken at high doses. Medications associated with tinnitus include non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (e.g., ibuprofen, naproxen, and aspirin), certain antibiotics, anti-cancer drugs, anti-malaria medications, and antidepressants.
Earwax or an ear infection. Blockage of the ear canal by earwax or by fluid from an ear infection can trigger tinnitus.
Head or neck injuries. A head/neck injury can damage structures of the ear, the nerve that carries sound signals to the brain, or areas of the brain that process sound, causing tinnitus.
Less common tinnitus risk factors include:
Ménière’s disease. Tinnitus can be a symptom of Ménière’s disease, an inner ear disorder that can also cause balance problems and hearing loss.
Jaw joint problems. The joint that connects the lower jaw to the skull is close to the ear. Jaw clenching or tooth grinding can damage surrounding tissue, causing or worsening tinnitus.
Tumor-related disorders. A vestibular schwannoma (acoustic neuroma) is a benign tumor on a nerve that leads from the inner ear to the brain. Acoustic neuromas and other head, neck, and brain tumors can cause tinnitus.
Blood vessel problems. High blood pressure, atherosclerosis, or malformations in blood vessels, especially if they are in or close to the ear, can alter blood flow and cause tinnitus.
Chronic conditions. Diabetes, migraines, thyroid disorders, anemia, and certain autoimmune disorders such as lupus and multiple sclerosis are among the chronic conditions that have been linked to tinnitus.
While there are many possible causes of tinnitus, some people develop it for no known reason.