Tinnitus is a common health condition among Americans, yet it remains largely misunderstood and hard to treat. One of the problems with diagnosing tinnitus is that its main symptom is a high-pitched sound only one person can hear. Secondly, it can be caused by more than 200 health disorders. For these reasons, diagnosing and treating the root cause of tinnitus (the only true cure) must be done on an individual basis. Even though tinnitus can be a symptom of hundreds of different conditions, here are five problems that are most commonly identified with it.

1. Hearing loss

A large percentage of tinnitus cases accompany with sensorineural hearing loss, since it’s one way the brain responds to damaged hearing. If you have tinnitus, this is the first thing to check, so visit a hearing healthcare professional for a full evaluation. 

2. Injuries – TMJ, head, neck and brain

Temporomandibular joint disorder (TMJ) can also cause tinnitus. This joint is located near the ears, where the lower jaw and skull connect. When it’s damaged, people typically notice pain, difficulty moving their jaw, and popping sounds. Since it shares some ligaments and nerve connections with the middle ear, damage to the TMJ can impact the auditory system and trigger tinnitus.

Other head, neck and brain injuries can also trigger tinnitus – in many cases, more severely than other causes. Seeking treatment for these injuries can also treat tinnitus, but they might have already caused permanent damage.

3. Obstructions in the ear

Things that block the eardrum from working properly and place pressure on the middle ear can also cause tinnitus symptoms. This could be excess earwax, hair, dirt and congestion from a cold or infection. Keeping your ears clean and healthy is the first line of defense against this cause of tinnitus.

4. Barometric pressure changes

Just like other forms of pressure, rapid changes in air pressure (especially from flying, diving, or being close to an explosion) can stress the eardrum and inner ear and cause hearing changes, along with temporary or lasting tinnitus.

5. Ototoxic reactions

Finally, prescription and over-the-counter medications can also cause tinnitus. Some prescription medications only rarely cause tinnitus, and it goes away as soon as the medication is discontinued. However, substances like NSAIDs, antibiotics, cancer medication, diuretics and quinine-containing medications can cause long-term damage to your hearing and chronic tinnitus. Always check with a physician and hearing healthcare professional if you suspect your medications are causing this kind of reaction.

Since there are many possible causes of tinnitus, it’s wise to start with a visit to a hearing healthcare professional who can help determine whether your tinnitus is related to your hearing or another medical condition. If they’re unable to treat you, you’ll be referred to another medical professional who can.