How Do You Get Tinnitus?

Tinnitus is not a “disease” but is rather a “symptom” of some other change in the body. Examples of such changes in the body that may cause the symptom of tinnitus are loss of hearing related to the normal aging process, an injury to the ear, or a circulatory system ailment.

coveringOther causes of tinnitus may be from exposure to loud noise; a head injury; outer, inner, or middle ear problems; neck or jaw disorders; cardiovascular disease; or use of prescription or non-prescription drugs. It has been estimated that as many as 40% of people with tinnitus can’t narrow down a specific cause or incident leading to tinnitus.

While many theories have been proposed to explain the occurrence of tinnitus, it is a multimodal disorder that may have different causes and different pathophysiologies. This makes tinnitus difficult to treat, and oftentimes interventions meet with only variable success. Three common causes of tinnitus are:

Noise Exposure

Ear and sound wavesNoise exposure is one of the most common causes of tinnitus. In fact, tinnitus is the number one medical complaint of Veterans returning from recent wars due to loud blasts and gunfire. Listening to loud music for prolonged periods of time can also damage the ear resulting in hearing loss and tinnitus. The best way to protect your ears is, of course, to avoid loud noise. But if you must be in a noisy environmentsuch as a music concert or loud factory—start protecting your ears NOW. Wearing ear plugs when you are in a very noisy environment is one great way to protect your ears from further damage. Ear plugs can easily and inexpensively be purchased at a local pharmacy, or you can have them custom made by a hearing health professional.


Aging is a beautiful, inevitable part of life. And with aging comes a certain amount of wear and tear on the body. For this reason, hearing loss due to advancing age is quite common. The medical term for age-related hearing loss is presbicusis. Not all people with presbicusis develop tinnitus but quite a few do. Again, there is no use in fighting the aging process so being good to your ears from this moment forward is best.

Prescription or Non-Prescription Drugs

The side effect of certain drugs can cause or worsen chronic tinnitus in some patients. Tinnitus triggers include: various antibiotics, pain killers, anti-anxiety and anti-depression drugs, diuretics, anti-malarial medications, anti-cancer drugs and blood pressure controlling medications. It is important to ask your doctor about medications that may harm your hearing. Use these drugs only if the benefits outweigh the risks. 

How Mindfulness Based Tinnitus Stress Reduction (MBTSR) Began

Mindfulness-based meditationwith its power to bring relief to troubling symptomsis a therapy that shows great promise in the present-day treatment of disease and management of health. Jon Kabat-Zinn, a biologist at the University of Massachusetts Medical Center, can be largely credited with bringing a mindfulness therapy, specifically an 8-week treatment program called Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (MBSR), to modern medicine. In a 2007 interview, he stated, “The idea was to actuallytrain medical patients in Buddhist meditative practices, but without the Buddhism.” His mindfulness program has been well accepted in many clinics and hospitals throughout the nation as a treatment for stress related to illness.The widespread acceptance of MBSR stems from clinical trials demonstrating effectiveness for a range of illnesses. It has been successfully used for such conditions as depression, anxiety, stress, fibromyalgia, chronic fatigue, psoriasis, symptoms associated with cancer and pain.


Mindfulness Based Tinnitus Stress Reduction (MBTSR) was designed by Dr. Jennifer Gans at the University of California, San Francisco (UCSF) Audiology Clinic in 2009. MBTSR is designed after the MBSR program but with important differences. The curriculum for the course is specifically tailored to working with tinnitus. Education on tinnitus is woven into the weekly lessons. Meditations are also geared for those living with chronic tinnitus. Emphasis is placed on exploring the sensation of hearing and sounds.

The results of the MBTSR pilot study conducted at UCSF highlights the potential benefit of MBTSR as an intervention for chronic tinnitus. Results showed moderate to large improvement with respect to reduced tinnitus annoyance and awareness, increased mindfulness (specifically for non-judging of inner experience or refraining from evaluations of one’s thoughts, sensations, and emotions), reduction in mood disturbance (primarily for depression, phobic anxiety, and somatization), and meaningful improvements in patient quality of life. After the MBTSR intervention, subjects reported an increase in well-being and reduced depression, anxiety, body concerns, and sleep difficulty.