It’s hard to pinpoint the exact cause of tinnitus, but it’s generally agreed that it results from some type of change, either mental or physical, but not necessarily related to the ear. Indeed, tinnitus is not a disease or illness in itself, but rather a symptom of an underlying condition.

Below we’ve listed some of the potential causes of tinnitus:

Hearing loss

The delicate hair cells in the inner ear may reduce in number due to ‘wear and tear’ as people age. This gradual change can cause hearing loss, which makes tinnitus more noticeable as it is not masked by external sound.

Exposure to loud noise

Hair cells can be damaged by exposure to loud noise, which could lead to tinnitus. This can occur gradually as a result of exposure to noises over prolonged periods or may be caused by exposure to louder noises over a shorter period of time. If you are exposed to loud noises, you should always wear ear protection. Find out more about the subject on our How Loud Is Loud article and see if your job or lifestyle could be putting your ears at risk,

Stress and Anxiety

It is not always clear whether stress causes the onset of tinnitus. However, tinnitus may be more noticeable if you are anxious or stressed.

Ear Infections

Middle ear infections can cause hearing loss and tinnitus. Symptoms will normally be temporary, but it is important to have the underlying infection treated by a GP.

Ear Wax Build-up

Depending on the individual, ear wax can build-up over time and cause tinnitus. Find out how to deal with it on our ear wax information page.

Ménière's Disease

A rare disorder affecting the inner ear, Ménière's disease can cause tinnitus, hearing loss and pressure in the inner ear, but it is usually accompanied by vertigo. Find out more from the Ménière's Society.

Glue Ear

Glue ear is a condition mainly affecting children also known as otitis media with effusion. It causes a buildup of fluid in the inner ear that usually heals over time without treatment. Find out more at NHS Choices.

Otosclerosis

Otosclerosis is the most common cause of progressive deafness in young adults. Find out more in our otosclerosis factsheet.

Perforated Eardrum

A perforated eardrum can be caused by infections, changes in air pressure (such as when flying or scuba diving) or exposure to a loud noise. Its often accompanied by extreme pain in the ear.

Other causes

Less commonly, tinnitus may develop as a result of a head injury, changes in blood flow (eg anaemia, high blood pressure), reactions to certain medications, acoustic neuroma (a rare non-cancerous growth that affects the hearing nerve), diabetes, and thyroid disorders.

For more information, go to our page All about tinnitus.