Otolaryngology, Head and Neck Surgery (Ear, Nose, and Throat)
About Tinnitus | Symptoms of Tinnitus | Causes of Tinnitus |
Diagnosing Tinnitus | Treating Tinnitus | Caring for Tinnitus
Tinnitus is often described as ringing in the ears. Some people hear hissing, roaring, whistling, chirping, or clicking. More than 50 million Americans have tinnitus. Tinnitus can be a symptom of other disorders, such as ear infections, Meniere's disease, or blocked arteries. Many times the source of tinnitus is unknown. Sometimes tinnitus just happens.
Symptoms of Tinnitus
Tinnitus can been described as:
- Ringing or hissing
- The sound of escaping air, running water, or the inside of a seashell
- A sizzling, musical, buzzing, or humming noise
There is no known cure for tinnitus. Tinnitus often goes away on its own.
Causes of Tinnitus
The exact cause of tinnitus is not known. Problems that can cause tinnitus or make it worse are:
- Hearing loss
- Wax buildup or foreign objects in the ear canal
- Ear or sinus infections
- Meniere's disease
- Ear, head, or neck injury
- High blood pressure
- Otosclerosis (growth of the bone surrounding the middle and inner ear)
- Loud noise exposure
- Cardiovascular disease, such as blocked arteries or an aneurysm
- Diseases of the central nervous system such as multiple sclerosis
- Certain types of tumors
- Medicines such as some antibiotics, indomethacin, quinine, diuretics, or aspirin
- Anxiety, depression, or stress
- Drinking excessive amounts of alcohol
- Large amounts of caffeine
- Jaw misalignment
- Thyroid disorders
Your health care provider will ask about your symptoms and give you a physical exam.
Tests you might also be referred for are:
- Hearing test
- Angiography (blood vessel studies)
- CT or MRI scan of your head
Tinnitus usually decreases or goes away with time. Simply acknowledging the tinnitus and redirecting your attention to something else will often help you stop focusing on the ringing. If it persists, your health care provider may recommend one or more choices for treatment.
Hearing aids are often helpful if you have hearing loss. One theory for tinnitus as a side effect of hearing loss is that the brain creates input that is missing from the ear. Using hearing aids gives the brain something to listen to instead of listening to the tinnitus.
Biofeedback or meditation as a relaxation technique teaches you to control certain body functions such as pulse, muscle tension, and brain wave activity.
Some types of medicines, including anti-anxiety drugs, antidepressants, antihistamines, anticonvulsants, anesthetics such as lidocaine, and vasodilators may be helpful.
Masking the tinnitus with competing sounds, such as low-level music, environmental sounds, or other noise is often helpful. This may make it easier to ignore the tinnitus and help you to concentrate and sleep.
Tinnitus retraining therapy (TRT)
Tinnitus retraining therapy (TRT), which combines low-level, steady background sounds with counseling can be helpful. This combination helps you grow unaware of the sounds of tinnitus. TRT can take 12 to 24 months.
If you have temporomandibular joint disorder (TMJ), dental treatment may also be helpful.
Caring for Tinnitus
- Stress and fatigue can affect your tinnitus. Take time to relax.
- Alcohol, nicotine, caffeine, and certain foods can make tinnitus worse. Talk with your health care provider about this.
- If you have hearing loss, avoid further damage by protecting yourself with earplugs or earmuffs, or by avoiding noisy events.
- Some medicines can make tinnitus worse. Be sure that you tell all health care providers who treat you know about all medicines you are taking, including nonprescription products, vitamins, and natural remedies.
Find out more about tinnitus through the American Tinnitus Association.