Lifestyle Changes For Tinnitus Prevention

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Tinnitus is a hearing condition that can have a profound impact on your overall well being and quality of life. Many tinnitus patients are eager to find relief from their symptoms, and turn to standard interventions to help reduce symptoms. Although speaking with a qualified audiologist or ENT doctor is one of the best ways to address tinnitus, there are some lifestyle interventions that can be used to help support general health and potentially help address some tinnitus symptoms. Before we dive into these interventions, let’s first take a close look at what tinnitus is, and how it impacts lives.

What Is Tinnitus?

Tinnitus is a hearing condition that affects as much as 25% of the population. Although it is often accompanied by hearing loss and other conditions–conditions that may or may not directly relate to the ears–the symptoms of tinnitus are relatively short and include phantom sound, or sounds of ringing, rushing, or buzzing, without a discernible, measurable cause.

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Tinnitus is rooted in different parts of the ear, and can be caused by damage to or infection within the outer, middle, or inner ear, though the precise structures involved in each vary. The outer and middle ear contains the eardrum, and infections to these spaces can cause temporary hearing loss as a result of infection. The inner ear contains small hair cells that help take in sounds and transmit those sounds for interpretation in the brain’s auditory system. When any of these structures are compromised, through injury, trauma, infection, or otherwise, tinnitus, hearing loss, and other hearing conditions can occur.

What Are Some Common Causes Of Tinnitus?

First, we will identify some of the most common root causes of tinnitus. These include:

  • Hearing loss. Hearing loss can be caused by age, loud sound exposure, genetic factors and more, but hearing loss is frequently closely associated with tinnitus onset.
  • Loud noise. Loud noises have the potential to damage the structures within the ears, frequently leading to the onset of tinnitus, hearing loss, or both.
  • Stress. Stress has also been linked to hearing loss, as stress overworks the body’s nervous system. A heightened or taxed nervous system can lead to damage to the ears.
  • Ototoxic substances. Ototoxicity is the word used to describe medications or substances that have a negative impact on hearing or ear health.
  • Smoking. In addition to damage to lungs, smoking is associated with damage to ears, including symptoms of hearing loss, tinnitus, and even vertigo. This is due to hypoxia and damage to the small blood vessels responsible for delivering oxygen rich blood to the inner ear structures.

Loud Noise

Loud noise exposure is one of the most prolific lifestyle factors linking tinnitus and young people. In fact, according to the World Health Organization (WHO), approximately 1.1 billion teenagers and young adults are at risk of hearing loss due to the unsafe use of personal audio devices, including smartphones, and exposure to damaging levels of sound at noisy entertainment venues such as nightclubs, bars and sporting events. 

Loud noises can be difficult for people to easily quantify, as different levels of hearing comfort and sensitivity can render one sound loud to one person and not loud to another. That being said, there are specific decibels and types of noise that have been shown to make tinnitus worse or set it off entirely. People who are exposed to loud noise through lifestyle factors, including occupational and recreational noise, are those most likely to experience the onset of tinnitus as a result of a loss of hearing health.

The decibels most frequently associated with tinnitus and hearing loss–and corresponding damage to the inner ear–vary according to exposure time and frequency. Prolonged exposure over time to 70 decibels or higher means that hearing damage may occur, while exposure to 120+ can result in an immediate decline in hearing health. For context, 60 decibels is considered the standard volume of a conversation between people, while lawnmowers, approaching trains, and listening devices all exceed 70 dB, while sirens and firecrackers all arrive at or exceed 120 dB.

Loud noises can trigger tinnitus symptoms or make tinnitus worse because loud noise damages some of the structures found within the inner ear–structures which make it possible to take in sounds and accurately report them to the auditory cortex within the brain. Structural damage can occur to the small hairs within the inner ear, or even to the eardrum and bones found within the ear, all of which work in tandem to take in and interpret sounds.

In the workplace, decibels are legally mandated; workers are not permitted to be continually exposed to noises that exceed 90 dB within an 8-hour shift, in order to guard against hearing loss. These same requirements are not found in personal products, concerts, and public events, which means that people should take care to wear hearing protection during concerts, in construction, and near other loud events, and pay close attention to the noise levels they expose themselves to when listening to music and using products like lawn mowers, leaf blowers, and more. Musician ear plugs, customized ear plugs, and over-the-counter ear plugs can all be used to effectively guard against damage to hearing health.


Man stressed out holding his head in his hands

Although current studies focus primarily on animal behaviors and development, there are numerous ties between stress and the onset of tinnitus, making lifestyle factors an important consideration with regard to hearing loss and tinnitus. In vitro, offspring of highly stressed beings had a demonstrably different threshold for hearing loss and hearing health conditions. Because stress can impact emotional health and can both instigate and exacerbate tinnitus, it is important to engage in stress avoidance, reduction, and management practices.

Stress avoidance is not always possible, but some lifestyle changes can help minimize the effect stress has on health, including mental health. Not over-committing, recognizing limitations, and setting personal and professional boundaries are all effective ways to avoid stress and maintain physical and mental health.

Stress reduction can be more difficult, particularly for those who are not accustomed to assertive behavior or open communication. Discussing workloads in professional spaces can help reduce stress levels, as can diving into and resolving conflicts in personal and professional relationships. Nevertheless, these types of lifestyle changes may help improve tinnitus symptoms by relieving some of the issues that often lead to hearing difficulties and tinnitus onset.

Finally, managing stress can help prevent tinnitus symptoms and help prevent hearing loss, because it can help reduce some of the health conditions that lead to or exacerbate existing symptoms. Stress management can look different for everyone, and may include speaking to a mental health professional about prospective medications, developing a regular exercise routine, engaging in meditation, or even simply setting aside time for hobbies and enjoyable pursuits. Stress management is often about removing actions or paring down on things, rather than always adding more, and can help with both acute and chronic tinnitus symptoms.

Ototoxic Chemicals

Although increasing studies are showing the potential for ototoxicity in medications, fewer studies have focused on hearing loss and how it may be impacted by household chemicals, such as those found in some plastics, cleaning solutions, and even the gasoline used to power a lawnmower. Skin contact, inhalation, and ingestion are the most common ways these chemicals enter the body and cause hearing loss or tinnitus, but many people are not aware of the different chemicals that can lead to hearing impairment. Some of the more common household chemicals that can damage hearing health include:

  • Benzene
  • Carbon monoxide
  • Toluene
  • Xylene

Many of these chemicals are found in seemingly harmless products, such as paint and cleaners, and lifestyle changes to limit this form of ototoxicity can mean an overhaul of personal care products, cleaning products, and even the paints used in hobbies and decorating.

Occupational chemicals can also prove hazardous to hearing health and lead to different health conditions. Although these are typically more well-labeled, and easy to identify, some may go unnoticed. Common occupational chemicals tied to ototoxicity include:

  • Mercury
  • Lead
  • Diesel Fuel
  • Kerosene
  • Pesticides

Although this is by no means an exhaustive list, it does highlight some of the more common chemical agents found to be ototoxic in working environments. Wearing proper protective equipment, limiting exposure, and seeking counsel from HR departments and safety regulations can all help reduce the exposure to and subsequent damage caused by these chemicals. Other factors, including noise exposure, can further contribute to damage, making it vital to take regular breaks when working in a field requiring exposure to any of these compounds.

Ototoxic Medications

Ototoxic medications can come in different forms, including over the counter medications and prescription medications. In both cases, the medication can cause both permanent and temporary ototoxic effects. Pain relievers are the most common over the counter medications known to cause issues with hearing, while loop diuretics, some chemotherapy drugs, and some antibiotics are well-known for their ability to damage hearing health and ability.

In many cases, these medications cannot be avoided, or the consequences of the medicine is pale in comparison to the risks associated with not medicating. Nevertheless, there are some ways to prevent exposure or reduce it. Some drugs are known to cause greater damage in conjunction with loud noise, while others may have similar alternatives without the risk of ototoxicity. If you have concerns about lifestyle choices, or an increased tinnitus risk with your medication, reach out to your doctor for different medication or alternative treatment plans.


The precise nature of smoking and its relationship with tinnitus is not yet known, but there is sufficient evidence to suggest that smokers are more likely to experience tinnitus. Smoking causes immense stress on virtually all of the body’s systems and is also linked with conditions like hypertension, which has been known to cause hearing loss and tinnitus. Removing smoking from the equation can help to improve overall bodily health, while also having the potential to lessen the likelihood of having a flare up of tinnitus. 


Ties to alcohol and tinnitus are largely anecdotal. No large-scale studies have been completed on the matter, and one study determined that results were extremely mixed, without a clear answer as to whether alcohol consumption made tinnitus worse, better, or had no effect on tinnitus at all. Nevertheless, because some anecdotal evidence has suggested that the two could be related, some people may choose to change this one part of their lifestyle to increase the chances of decreasing sensations like ringing and buzzing in the ear.


Different bodies respond differently to caffeine. Some people experience increased mental alertness when consuming caffeine, while others merely experience a sensation of discomfort or nervousness. Still others may not have a significant response to caffeine at all. The same is true of caffeine and tinnitus; some people report a decrease in tinnitus symptoms while consuming caffeine, others report being able to hear tinnitus ringing more, and still others suggest that there is no distinct difference between the health of their ears or hearing while drinking caffeine or abstaining.


Person eating a salad

Although regular exercise is frequently identified as a way to reduce stress and anxiety, and may therefore be helpful for tinnitus, diet is a very important lifestyle practice that can impact the incidence of tinnitus. One review found that studies determined specific nutrients and even dietary patterns could be linked to both worsening tinnitus and improved tinnitus symptoms. High protein and low fat diets, for instance, were shown to improve tinnitus symptoms, while high calcium, iron, and fat intake was associated with worse tinnitus symptoms.

Body Mass Index

Exercise is another important factor when considering lifestyle changes to support hearing health. Although body mass index (BMI) has not been shown to have a statistically significant impact on the incidence of tinnitus, heart and arterial health are related to the onset of tinnitus. Regular exercise and physical activity are both invaluable behaviors to support heart and arterial health. From helping people get enough sleep, to maintaining mental health, exercise and physical activity can help make tinnitus symptoms more bearable, or help reduce them as a whole.

Regular Hearing Evaluations

Monitoring hearing health is essential to make sure that increased tinnitus risk is not present, and to stay on top of any rising symptoms of hearing loss or hearing conditions. Hearing evaluations can be conducted by your primary care physician during yearly checkups, or can be conducted by an audiology team.

How To Manage Tinnitus

Treating tinnitus is not necessarily a straightforward endeavor, as many people experience the most significant changes to tinnitus symptoms when a comprehensive treatment plan is used. These treatment plans can help make tinnitus symptoms lessen significantly or, in some cases, seem to disappear altogether. The most common inclusions for a comprehensive treatment plan include:

  • Sound enrichment. Sound enrichment (also called sound therapy) is defined as the process in which background noises are used to create a more calming environment for people with tinnitus, as they are able to focus on the background noise–think ocean noises, white noise, and more–and are not as likely to focus on the sensation of ringing, rushing, buzzing, etc.
  • Ear level sound generators. Used in conjunction with sound therapy, ear level sound generators allow tinnitus patients to take sound therapy along with them at any given moment–while working, while watching tv, while exercising, and more.
  • Tinnitus Retraining Therapy (TRT). TRT combines the tinnitus treatment options of cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) and sound therapy, while also paying close attention to a patient’s medical and family histories, to better develop an overall treatment plan. Tinnitus retraining therapy uses background noise to lessen the sounds of tinnitus, while teaching patients how to effectively ignore or manage reactions to tinnitus sounds.
  • Hearing aids. Hearing aids pull double duty, helping tinnitus patients better hear and cut through any hearing loss that may accompany their symptoms, and by providing a way to deliver sound therapy consistently and on-the-go.
  • Support from those around you. Supporting individuals with tinnitus involves various actions such as accompanying them to appointments, urging them to consult specialists, providing updates on their tinnitus treatment progress, and even using sound therapy when with them. Finding treatment for tinnitus can be difficult, and even frustrating at times, and having a strong support system can make all the difference.

Although managing tinnitus can feel daunting, there are tried-and-true methods to help reduce tinnitus symptoms and improve quality of life. 

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