Can you suddenly develop tinnitus?

Tinnitus can develop gradually over time or occur suddenly. It's not clear exactly why it occurs, but it often occurs along with some degree of hearing loss. Tinnitus is usually caused by an undiagnosed condition, such as age-related hearing loss, an ear injury, or a problem with the circulatory system. For many people, tinnitus improves with treatment of the underlying cause or with other treatments that reduce or mask noise, making tinnitus less noticeable.

Gayla Poling says tinnitus can be perceived in many ways. Ninety percent of people with tinnitus have hearing loss. Hearing loss can be age-related, due to a single exposure, or exposure to loud sounds throughout life. Poling says that the tiny hairs in our inner ear can play a role.

There are tiny, delicate hair cells in the inner ear (cochlea) that move when the ear receives sound waves. This movement triggers electrical signals along the nerve from the ear to the brain (auditory nerve). The brain interprets these signals as sound. Tinnitus can develop gradually or come out of nowhere.

While frustrating, in the vast majority of cases, it's not related to any serious physical condition. Nonpulsatile tinnitus is more common, but it can be more difficult to identify a cause. Tinnitus is most often associated with hearing loss. However, people can have tinnitus with normal hearing.

Although people with tinnitus often believe that the problem is in their ears, there is some evidence in tinnitus research that suggests that noise originates in the brain, even though it is perceived through the ears. People who have high blood pressure (hypertension) are more likely to develop pulsatile tinnitus than people who have normal blood pressure. Service members exposed to bomb explosions can develop tinnitus if the shock wave from the explosion squeezes the skull and damages brain tissue in areas that help process sound. You may first notice tinnitus because you're developing hearing loss, have a head injury, or a daily medical condition, such as an ear infection.

People working in noisy environments, such as factory or construction workers, road workers, or even musicians, can develop tinnitus over time when continuous exposure to noise damages the tiny sensory hair cells in the inner ear that help transmit sound to the brain. Even with all of these conditions and associated causes, some people develop tinnitus for no obvious reason.

Milton Krolak
Milton Krolak

Devoted coffeeaholic. Avid beer practitioner. Award-winning zombie buff. Amateur beer ninja. Hipster-friendly coffee geek. Professional social media enthusiast.

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