13 Tinnitus Triggers You Should Know

Many veterans experience tinnitus (perceived sounds, such as ringing or buzzing in the ears) due to excessive noise or chemical exposure while serving in the military. If you have tinnitus, you’ve probably noticed certain tinnitus triggers that can set off your symptoms or make them worse. Use this guide to help identify your tinnitus triggers and keep your symptoms at bay.

Physical Triggers

Loud Noises

Many military service members develop tinnitus due to exposure to gunfire, explosives or large engines. Excessive noise can cause tinnitus, either temporarily or permanently, and if you already have tinnitus, loud sounds can make symptoms worse.1 Be sure to wear hearing protection if you are going to be around loud machinery, sporting events or concerts, and move away from loud sounds whenever possible. When listening to music or other recordings, remember to keep volume levels down — especially when wearing headphones or earbuds.

Earwax

Earwax protects the ear canal by trapping dirt and slowing bacterial growth. However, when earwax builds up, it can cause hearing loss or irritate the eardrum, which can cause tinnitus.2 If you think earwax could be an issue, see a doctor who can safely remove any build-up if needed.

Congestion

Allergies, colds, ear infections and sinus infections can cause congestion which can worsen tinnitus.3 If congestion seems to be aggravating your tinnitus and the symptoms last more than a week, visit your doctor to see if you have an ear infection or sinus infection that can be treated.

Blood Pressure

Tinnitus may be a sign of high or low blood pressure.1 If you have tinnitus and think blood pressure could be an issue, see a doctor to monitor and control it.

Chemical Triggers

Medications

Some medications can aggravate tinnitus but never stop taking prescription medication without a doctor’s approval. Talk with your doctor if you’re concerned about taking any of the medications noted below:2

An open bottle of medicine tablets spilling onto a prescription tablet
Certain medicines can be tinnitus triggers. Ask your doctor if you have concerns.

Alcohol

Drinking alcohol can increase blood pressure and worsen tinnitus symptoms.1 If this is a concern for you, cut back on your consumption and see if your symptoms improve.

Tobacco Products

Smoking, vaping and chewing tobacco products contain nicotine that can increase tinnitus symptoms in two ways. Nicotine elevates blood pressure and can narrow blood vessels decreasing the amount of oxygen traveling to the ears — both which can cause or worsen tinnitus.1 If you have tinnitus and are a nicotine user, you just found another good reason to quit! If you’re interested in quitting, talk to your doctor about ways to quit and visit SmokeFree.gov for more information  

Caffeine

Caffeine (often found in coffee, tea, soda, energy drinks and supplements) can raise blood pressure which can trigger tinnitus.2 If you have tinnitus and consume caffeine, cut back on it to see if your tinnitus symptoms decrease. Check this list for sources of caffeine.

Adding a teaspoonful of sugar to a cup of black coffee
Watch your intake of caffeine and refined sugar. Both are tinnitus triggers.

Refined Sugars

Many people notice that eating sugary foods increases tinnitus symptoms.  A study found that 84-92% of people with tinnitus had hyperinsulinemia, otherwise defined as having too much insulin in the blood.4 Insulin is a hormone that opens cell membranes, allowing sugar to enter cells. When blood sugar levels rise, insulin is released to move sugar from the bloodstream into cells to avoid the sugar damaging tissue in veins, arteries and nerves. Untreated high blood sugar levels can also damage the nerve that controls how the brain interprets sound and may cause tinnitus. Avoid overindulging in sweets to keep your blood sugar in check and your tinnitus symptoms under control.

Salt

If you have tinnitus, keep an eye on your salt intake. Salt increases blood pressure which can then affect tinnitus,5 so be sure to read nutrition labels for salt content.

Stress Triggers

Nervous Tension

Mental and emotional strain can make tinnitus symptoms worse.6 Avoiding stress and developing stress-relieving habits can decrease the effect that stress has on your tinnitus. Things that can reduce stress include regular exercise, relaxing hobbies, counseling, deep breathing, meditation, massage and other types of bodywork.

Anxiety and Depression

Anxiety and depression can trigger tinnitus symptoms,7 and certain medicines used to treat anxiety and depression can also make tinnitus symptoms worse. Tinnitus alone can cause anxiety and depression, so please work with your doctor to find ways to manage both conditions.

Sleep Problems

If you have tinnitus, you may already know that it can make falling asleep more difficult. To make matters worse, lack of sleep can trigger tinnitus symptoms.1 To avoid this vicious cycle, see your doctor if you have insomnia (difficulty sleeping). If tinnitus is keeping you from falling asleep, try using a sound therapy machine or sound pillow, tinnitus apps, deep breathing techniques or meditation. If you’re a veteran and eligible for veterans’ benefits, the VA may provide you with a sound therapy pillow or other tinnitus-relieving options at no charge. It’s worth checking into. Find more ways to help you fall asleep despite tinnitus here.

What Doesn’t Trigger Tinnitus?

That’s a good question that may be difficult to answer. Try keeping a journal to track your daily habits to help pinpoint tinnitus triggers so you can manage them better. If you wear hearing aids, it may be worth asking your hearing healthcare professional about the tinnitus-masking benefits available through your hearing aids. While there may not be a true “fix” to tinnitus, paying attention to tinnitus triggers may help alleviate the nuisance.

What makes your tinnitus symptoms worse and what do you do about it? Let us know in the comments below.

  1. WebMD, 15 Things That Can Make Tinnitus Worse slideshow. webmd.com/a-to-z-guides/tinnitus-17/slideshow-make-tinnitus-worse
  2. Mayo Clinic, Tinnitus Overview. mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/tinnitus/symptoms-causes/syc-20350156
  3. American Tinnitus Association, Understanding the Facts. ata.org/understanding-facts/causes
  4. Salem Audiology Clinic, How Could Sweets Affect Tinnitus. salemaudiologyclinic.com/sweets-affect-tinnitus/
  5. OnHealth, Tinnitus: Why Are My Ears Ringing? onhealth.com/content/1/tinnitus_ringing_ears
  6. HearIt, Tinnitus and Stress. hear-it.org/Tinnitus-and-stress
  7. WebMD, How Does Stress Cause Tinnitus? webmd.com/a-to-z-guides/qa/how-does-stress-cause-tinnitus

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