Why is tinnitus related to age?

10 January 2010

Question

Why is tinnitus often related to age related conditions and how could a low level of background noise actually trigger it?

Answer

We put this question to Karen Steel:

Well, tinnitus is a ringing or noises that you can perceive. Sometimes it sounds like it's really like coming from outside. Sometimes it sounds as if it's coming from inside your head. It's a sign that either the sensory hair cells or something in your neurons is activating at abnormal times when there isn't a sensory input. That can happen because there's something going wrong with the neuron or something going wrong with the hair cell and that can be an early sign of damage. And so, if you come away from a loud concert and you found your ears are ringing, you've got the first signs of damage and you really shouldn't do it. So, why it's brought on by low levels of background noise? I don't think anybody really has an answer to that and every person's tinnitus is very different, so there's no general answer to that.

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