Suffering from constant buzzing or ringing in your ears? This guide will help you identify 18 things that might be triggering or aggravating your tinnitus.
With 50 million U.S. adults struggling with tinnitus, researchers have been gathering data on what seems to worsen tinnitus to help you find ways to keep your symptoms at bay.
Depending on your type of tinnitus, the constant noise in your ears can get in the way of your work, your sleep and your general quality of life.
It’s completely normal to have some days that are worse than others.
But that doesn’t mean you have to live this way.
There are many ways that tinnitus can be treated.
Take note of which things in the guide below trigger your tinnitus.
This information will help your tinnitus specialist come up with a treatment plan for you.
Let’s dive into 18 things science shows could be making your tinnitus worse.
1. Loud Noises
More than one-third of tinnitus patients say that the main trigger for their tinnitus is loud noises.
Everyday American life is full of loud noises:
- Watching TV
- Going to the movies
- Listening to music through headphones or in your car
- Mowing your lawn
- Concerts and festivals
- Sporting events
- Even running your dishwasher or doing laundry
And many hard-working Americans deal with loud noises on a daily basis in their work:
- Military personnel
- Construction workers
- Police and fire service
- Factory workers
- Heavy machine operators and those working with firearms
- Mechanics and woodworkers
Even many famous musicians like Neil Young, Sting and Barbara Streisand have been diagnosed with tinnitus issues.
When you are constantly surrounded by these loud noises because of your work or lifestyle, it can make it difficult to control the ringing in your ears.
If you must work in a loud environment, attend a concert, sporting event or go see the Fourth of July fireworks, be sure to wear some ear protection.
And when you’re watching TV at home or listening to music, try to keep the volume as low as possible to not trigger your tinnitus.
This might surprise you, but many tinnitus sufferers have noticed a link between the food they eat and their tinnitus flaring up.
Foods high in sugar are one of the leading triggers for tinnitus – especially if you have diabetes, pre-diabetes, or any other glycemic or blood sugar issues.
For more information about sugar and your tinnitus, we’ve documented how it affects your tinnitus and ways you can cut down your sugar intake starting today.
Another food that might be affecting your tinnitus is salt.
High blood pressure raises when you eat too much salt – and most Americans get way more than the recommended daily allowance.
The poor blood flow to your ears when your blood pressure raises is one of the main ways that salt intake affects the ringing in your ears.
To help combat this, you can make some simple changes to your diet that will drastically reduce your salt intake.
4. Iron Deficiency
If you aren’t getting enough iron in your diet, you will develop iron deficiency anemia.
Low iron causes your blood to pump harder through your blood vessels.
That pressure results in a whooshing sound you can hear and feel in your ears.
Lacking vitamins might be causing your tinnitus.
5. Fast Food
Fast food is not only loaded with sugar and salt, which you already know is bad for your tinnitus, but it’s also high in saturated fats which are a big cause of high blood pressure.
Those facts alone – the sugar, the salt, the risk for high blood pressure – make fast food the worst offender for aggravating your tinnitus.
Having a burger, taco or pizza is a sure-fire way to end up with ear buzzing later that day.
Eating healthier is the best way to deal with food-related issues that can worsen tinnitus.
To get to the bottom of what are your food triggers, start keeping a food journal.
Alcohol has numerous bad effects on our health and tinnitus is no exception.
Frequent alcohol consumption can not only worsen the buzzing in your ears but also lead to more serious hearing problems and even complete hearing loss.
Similar to some of the foods already mentioned, alcohol contains sugar, it raises your blood pressure and it also causes dehydration – all of which have an impact on the ringing in your ears.
Nicotine found in tobacco products affects your tinnitus in several ways:
- Smoking, chewing, or vaping increases narrows blood vessels and increases blood pressure.
- The decrease in oxygen levels that reach your ears aggravates tinnitus symptoms.
- Nicotine irritates your middle ear lining and Eustachian tube.
- It acts as a stimulant making the ringing in your ears sound louder.
And, like alcohol, years of smoking can lead to complete hearing loss.
Studies have shown both smoking and vaping have been linked to triggering tinnitus.
When you’re ready, check out this guide on how to quit smoking to relieve tinnitus.
Another thing that contributes to increased blood pressure and the negative side effects that influence tinnitus levels is caffeine.
Sad, but true.
Not only can coffee irritate your tinnitus, as we all know it might be affecting the quality of your sleep and be increasing your stress levels.
All disasters for tinnitus sufferers.
Some patients who have completely cut out, or at least drastically reduced the amount of coffee and caffeine they consume, have been able to completely eliminate their tinnitus.
This doesn’t mean that everyone with tinnitus shouldn’t have any caffeine.
But going on a 2-week trial to see if this method would help you is worth a shot.
We’ve put together a list of easy ways to cut down caffeine intake as well as a helpful guide for some healthy alternatives to coffee.
Some medications, even those prescribed by your doctor for other problems, are known to trigger tinnitus.
Even some over-the-counter meds can be increasing the buzzing in your ears.
In fact, there are hundreds of medications that are classified as ototoxic (damaging to hearing).
Common medications that have been shown to worsen tinnitus are:
- Antibiotics such as ciprofloxacin, doxycycline, erythromycin and gentamicin
- Antimalarial drugs
- Certain anticonvulsants
- Cancer drugs like cisplatin and vincristine
- Loop diuretics
- Antidepressants and antianxiety medications
If you’re taking any medication that is making your tinnitus worse, there are usually alternatives you can get that will affect you less.
Stress often a part of our everyday lives, but living with constant stress might be what’s making your tinnitus worse or even what might be causing it.
Stress is probably the biggest factor in high blood pressure – and that leads to tinnitus, as well.
Meditation, breathing exercises and some light physical exercises will help you reduce your stress levels.
11. Depression and Anxiety
Research has found that depression and anxiety, even in the mildest forms, are known to trigger tinnitus symptoms and might be a root cause in some cases.
What makes matters worse is, like we talked about earlier, some of the drugs used to treat these disorders can also aggravate tinnitus and make the ringing in your ears worse.
Look carefully at the possible side-effects of any medication you’re taking.
If it shows tinnitus or “ototoxicity” look for an alternative that will be a better fit for you.
12. Sleeping Troubles
One of the worst things about tinnitus is how it affects a good night’s sleep.
One of the main reasons that it’s worse at night is because it’s quiet, so you don’t have anything to mask the noise in your ears.
If that’s not bad enough, a lack of sleep can lead to even more tinnitus symptoms.
Some ideas to help you get proper rest are to try masking the noise with a white noise machine or keeping a fan on.
Cutting out coffee earlier in the day might help, too.
If you’re having trouble sleeping, we have some sleep tips specifically for tinnitus sufferers like you.
13. Earwax Build-Up
Earwax is a vital part of how our ears work.
It traps any dirt and helps slow down bacteria growth.
But too much earwax build-up and that buzzing in your ears is going to get worse.
What most of us do is try to fix that with a cotton swab.
What really happens is that you actually push that wax further down your ear canal and then the outer part of your canal makes more wax to try to keep protecting your ear from dirt and bacteria.
If you think that excess earwax is causing or irritating your tinnitus, get a professional to safely clean it out for you.
Even a common cold can easily turn into an ear or sinus infection.
Either of those will definitely increase your tinnitus.
When you get a prescription for your infection, be sure to ask if the medication is linked to tinnitus or known to worsen it.
15. Seasonal Allergies
If allergies aren’t annoying enough on their own, the stuffiness and sneezing can also be irritating the ringing in your ears.
Keeping the allergy symptoms at bay will definitely help you keep your tinnitus in check.
16. Jaw Problems
Your ear and jaw share a lot of the same nerves, muscles and ligaments.
So anything that is going on with your jaw will most likely be affecting your inner ears – which also means your tinnitus, too.
If you’re having issues with tensing your jaw at night, you can try a mouthguard.
There are some inexpensive ones at pharmacies.
17. Air Pressure
A lot of people suffering from tinnitus notice that the ringing in their ears gets worse when the weather changes.
Especially right before a big rain or at the end of winter when the weather starts warming up.
The reason isn’t the temperature or the humidity.
It’s those big changes in air pressure that you feel in your inner ear.
The fluid in your inner ear helps you stay balanced but it’s so sensitive that it also notices air pressure changes.
That sudden change in the air pressure can aggravate your tinnitus and cause it to act up.
If just a simple weather change can affect your ears so severely, you now know why air travel irritates even those who don’t have a pre-existing condition like tinnitus.
When you do suffer from tinnitus, it makes flying that much more painful and debilitating.
On top of that, planes make lots of noise, even when you’re safely inside.
That increase in the volume in your environment will really set your tinnitus reeling.
If you can travel to your destination by other means, it would be worth looking into, just to try to avoid setting yourself up for a severe tinnitus bout.
Because of the many different causes of tinnitus, no solution is one-size-fits-all when it comes to this affliction.
The first step to take control of your own health is to start to see which of the above tinnitus triggers might be culprits in your life.
And then taking steps to minimize those triggers as much as possible.
Take a notepad and start keeping track of:
- What you’re eating and drinking
- If you were in a loud or quiet environment
- How your sleep was
- Any allergies or infections
- Jaw or ear troubles
- Your mood and stress levels
Once you start monitoring your daily habits you’ll be able to see what could be increasing the ringing and buzzing in your ears.