Tinnitus, ringing in the ears, links to hearing loss because that’s the most common cause of tinnitus, but tinnitus is not believed to cause hearing loss.

older person with hand on head because of tinnitus-1Share on Pinterest
Nadine Brandt/Stocksy United

Tinnitus refers to the perception of sounds that have no external source. People with tinnitus hear noises in their ears or head, like ringing, tinkling, or whooshing, that have no cause.

Tinnitus overwhelmingly accompanies hearing loss, so you may think that tinnitus causes hearing impairment. However, the opposite is true. Hearing loss is a major risk factor for tinnitus, not the other way around.

In this article, we’ll explain the link between these two conditions.

Tinnitus doesn’t cause any type of hearing loss in any age group.

There are three types of hearing loss:

  • Conductive: Conductive hearing loss results from problems in the ear drum, ear canal, or middle ear and its bones.
  • Sensorineural: Sensorineural neural hearing loss results from problems within the inner ear and is the most common type of hearing loss.
  • Mixed: Mixed hearing loss is a combination of conductive and sensorineural hearing loss.

The most common causes of sensorineural hearing loss in adults are aging and loud noise exposure. Another common cause that is easily treated is ear wax impaction. Once the ear wax is removed, hearing generally improves.

Other less common causes of hearing loss include:

Learn more about tinnitus.

Tinnitus can be permanent or temporary. Several types include:

  • Subjective: Subjective tinnitus involves experiencing head or ear noises only you can hear. This is the most common type of tinnitus
  • Objective: Objective tinnitus involves experiencing head or ear noises that can also be heard by others. This type of tinnitus is very rare.
  • Pulsatile: Pulsatile tinnitus is usually a form of objective tinnitus. In rare instances, experts may categorize it as subjective tinnitus.

Sensorineural hearing loss is the main risk factor for subjective tinnitus.

When a person has hearing loss, less auditory stimulus reaches the brain. In response, the brain “fills in” the silence with tinnitus sounds.

Tinnitus often becomes apparent before hearing loss is suspected. That may be why people assume that tinnitus causes hearing loss, even though the opposite is true.

Hearing loss often comes on slowly. You can have mild-to-moderate hearing loss for quite some time before you become fully aware of it.

In addition to hearing loss, tinnitus has many other causes. They include:

The main risk factor for tinnitus is hearing loss caused by aging (presbycusis).

You can’t stop yourself from aging, but you can protect your hearing health by getting regular audiological checkups, and by using hearing aids as soon as you receive a diagnosis of hearing loss.

The other main risk factor for tinnitus is long- or short-term exposure to loud noises. Certain professions increase your risk, such as:

  • serving in the military
  • being a musician
  • working in nightclubs
  • being a factory or construction worker

You can mitigate this risk by protecting your ears with earmuffs or earplugs made for this purpose. Concertgoers should also use this strategy. Listening to headphones too loud can also damage your ears, causing hearing loss and tinnitus.

More than 200 medications can cause hearing loss or tinnitus. Talk with your healthcare professional about the drugs you take. In some instances, you may be able to swap out your current prescription for one that does not negatively impact the auditory system.

If you have recently noticed tinnitus, it may take time to adjust. While there is no cure for tinnitus, there are treatment options. Sometimes, there can also be a serious underlying cause for your tinnitus that needs diagnosis and treatment.

Many people report depression following the onset of tinnitus. It may be hard to believe now, but most people find that tinnitus fades over time.

A small percentage of people have debilitating tinnitus. In these instances, it can be harder to cope. Tinnitus treatments can help improve your quality of life, even with severe symptoms of tinnitus.

Tinnitus doesn’t cause hearing loss. Losing your hearing does, however, often cause tinnitus.

The most common cause of tinnitus is age-related hearing loss, but hearing loss caused by loud noise exposure can also cause it.