The Link Between Tinnitus and Traffic Noise

Recent research has found a significant relationship between the appearance of tinnitus and living near a road. There are also two more factors that could lead to the appearance of this ringing in one or both ears.
The Link Between Tinnitus and Traffic Noise
Valeria Sabater

Written and verified by the psychologist Valeria Sabater.

Last update: 07 June, 2023

For some people, there comes a day in their lives when silence ceases to exist. They lose their sense of calm due to the fact that their hearing is disturbed by continual buzzing, clicks, or whistling sounds. This is tinnitus. It’s a perceptual phenomenon that can’t be controlled. In fact, in many cases, it becomes a chronic condition.

Today, there’s increasingly more scientific research available to help us understand the experience of tinnitus. However, a century ago it was a disturbing condition about which nothing was known. Moreover, it was often confused with hallucinatory states. After all, why else would someone hear a sound that didn’t exist in the outside world?

We now understand that this experience is a real phenomenon. We also know it’s connected to various parts of the brain, not just those linked to hearing. Understandably, it’s a condition that can cause great psychological distress. In addition, there’s an increased risk of sufferers developing depression and anxiety disorders.

But, we still don’t exactly understand the mechanisms responsible for this phenomenon which affects about 15 percent of the population. That said, a recent investigation suggests a possible trigger.

Tinnitus can affect work performance, quality of sleep, and mental health. Knowing the triggers can help us prevent it.

image to represent tinnitus and traffic noise
Living next to a busy highway increases the risk of developing tinnitus.

Tinnitus and traffic noise

Recently, the Faculty of Health Sciences at the University of Southern Denmark conducted research that revealed a relationship between tinnitus and traffic noise. the study claims that living near a busy road increases the risk of developing tinnitus.

The research was conducted with more than three and a half million Danish participants. The results suggested that being exposed to the persistent sound of cars driving near our homes ends up altering our health. Indeed, the higher the decibels linked to traffic, the more likely it is that we’ll experience ringing in the ears.

Dr. Manuella Lech Cantuaria, one of the researchers, claims that, from a medical point of view, we should be aware of how having a highway nearby reduces our quality of life. In fact, in 2021, a correlation was even found between traffic noise and the onset of dementia. 

We need to restructure our cities and roads to reduce noise pollution. We can’t ignore the fact that the sound of traffic doesn’t only affect our hearing, it also increases the risk of strokes.

Variables that increase the appearance of tinnitus

There’s a significant link between tinnitus and traffic noise. There are also other factors involved. For example, having a bad night’s sleep and experiencing high stress can cause these buzzing or hissing noises in the individual’s ear.

Tinnitus is caused by an error in the auditory system. This causes the vibration of the tissues that surround the ear. Occasionally, a vascular abnormality or unusual contractions may also appear in the muscles of the middle ear or those surrounding the jaw. The problem lies in knowing what causes these structural peculiarities.

In light of the aforementioned research, it’s apparent that something so common as living next to a road with a lot of traffic can trigger this problem, along with sleeping badly and constant stress.

More than 58 decibels: a dangerous threshold

This research highlights the danger to our health that arises when we’re exposed to persistent traffic sound that exceeds 58 decibels. Trucks emit between 70 and 90 decibels (dB), while emergency vehicle sirens exceed 120 dB.

Unfortunately, these types of sounds are constant in our cities. Consequently, our brains suffer. These noises over-activate two key regions of the brain, the auditory cortex and the amygdala. In fact, the stimulation causes the flow of adrenaline and cortisol to rise.

These metabolic disturbances not only turn us into insomniacs with tinnitus, but they also affect our general health. For example, the risk of suffering non-hearing ailments increases, such as depression, anxiety, and stress. This often leads to cardiovascular and cerebrovascular diseases.

Traffic noise is a silent killer.

girl covering her ears because of Tinnitus and traffic noise
At present, there’s no effective long-term treatment to eliminate or cure tinnitus.

Traffic and tinnitus

There’s currently no treatment to cure the exhausting condition of tinnitus. In addition, the sound of big cities and noise pollution are almost as harmful as environmental pollution. They’re silently taking our lives, and diminishing our health and our precious hearing.

We need changes in our cities in terms of acoustics

Replacing fuel cars with electric ones doesn’t really solve anything. The main acoustic problem of traffic lies in the contact between the tires and the asphalt. It’s that persistent sound that seeps into our brains and makes us sick.

Faced with this reality, cities should reduce night traffic circulation to improve the lives of their citizens. Placing acoustic barriers along the roads, or devising another type of asphalt that reduces the sound of the tires would be extremely beneficial strategies.

If you have tinnitus, accept its presence

Tinnitus doesn’t go away so, if you’re a sufferer, your only option is to accept its presence. We know that patients who manage to integrate and assume this neuro auditory phenomenon achieve greater well-being. They also reduce their levels of anxiety, depression, and stress.

Therefore, instead of fighting with your tinnitus and telling yourself that you can’t take it anymore because it’s making you crazy, try and accept its presence without getting too frustrated or upset. After all, it’s here to stay so the less you fight against it the better. Let the noises ring, buzz, and beep. Remember, life exists beyond the internal limits this condition places on you.

However, if you feel overwhelmed, don’t hesitate to request psychological help. Although you can’t escape tinnitus, there are certain psychological strategies you can put in place to prevent it from taking over your life.

All cited sources were thoroughly reviewed by our team to ensure their quality, reliability, currency, and validity. The bibliography of this article was considered reliable and of academic or scientific accuracy.

  • Manuella Lech Cantuaria, Ellen Raben Pedersen, Aslak Harbo Poulsen, Ole Raaschou-Nielsen, Ulla Arthur Hvidtfeldt, Gregor Levin, Steen Solvang Jensen, Jesper Hvass Schmidt, Mette Sørensen. Transportation Noise and Risk of Tinnitus: A Nationwide Cohort Study from Denmark. Environmental Health Perspectives, 2023; 131 (2) DOI: 10.1289/EHP11248

This text is provided for informational purposes only and does not replace consultation with a professional. If in doubt, consult your specialist.