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What is tinnitus?

Tinnitus is the sound of ringing in the ears. It may also described as roaring, buzzing, hissing, or clicking inside the head. The sounds may come and go. Or they may be ongoing. The sound may occur in one or both ears, and vary in pitch.

What causes tinnitus?

Tinnitus may result from a variety of causes, including:

  • Damage to the nerve endings in the inner ear
  • Stiffening of bones in the middle ear
  • Advancing age
  • Exposure to loud noises
  • Allergy
  • High or low blood pressure
  • Tumor
  • Diabetes
  • Thyroid problems
  • Head or neck injury
  • Reaction to certain medications
  • Wax buildup
  • Jaw misalignment
  • Certain medications

What are the symptoms of tinnitus?

People with tinnitus will often complain of hearing these sounds in their head:

  • Ringing
  • Roaring
  • Buzzing
  • Hissing
  • Clicking

They may complain that it interferes with their sleep.

How is tinnitus diagnosed?

The diagnosis of tinnitus includes a complete history and physical exam. Your health care provider may request an audiological evaluation. Depending on the suspected cause of the tinnitus, other tests may be needed.

How is tinnitus treated?

Your health care provider will figure out the best treatment based on:

  • How old you are
  • Your overall health and medical history
  • How sick you are
  • How well you can handle specific medications, procedures, or therapies
  • How long the condition is expected to last
  • Your opinion or preference

Currently, there is no known cure for tinnitus. However, experts suggest trying one of the following to find relief:

  • Hearing aids. These may benefit some people with tinnitus who have hearing loss. Using a hearing aid may make some sounds louder.
  • Cochlear implants. This option is for those who have tinnitus along with severe hearing loss. 
  • Maskers. These provide help for some people by making tinnitus less noticeable. This small electronic device creates sound that may make the ringing or roaring seem softer.
  • Medications. Some medications may ease tinnitus by addressing a problem related to the condition. Medications may also improve mood or sleep.
  • Tinnitus retraining therapy. This therapy uses a combination of counseling and maskers. Otolaryngologists and audiologists can help a person learn how to deal with the tinnitus.
  • Counseling. A person with tinnitus may benefit from meeting with a counselor or support group.
  • Relaxation. This may provide relief for some people as stress may make tinnitus worse.

Living with tinnitus

Tinnitus can affect your quality of life. Your health care provider may be able to determine the underlying cause, which can then be treated. Work with your health care provider to determine strategies for reducing tinnitus.

Key points

  • Tinnitus is the sound of ringing, roaring, buzzing, hissing, or clicking that occurs inside the head.
  • There are many causes of tinnitus and each may be addressed differently.
  • Treatment varies from use of hearing aids, maskers, and medication to counseling and relaxation techniques.

Next steps

Tips to help you get the most from a visit to your health care provider:
  • Before your visit, write down questions you want answered.
  • Bring someone with you to help you ask questions and remember what your provider tells you.
  • At the visit, write down the names of new medicines, treatments, or tests, and any new instructions your provider gives you.
  • If you have a follow-up appointment, write down the date, time, and purpose for that visit.
  • Know how you can contact your provider if you have questions.
Online Medical Reviewer: Sather, Rita, RN
Online Medical Reviewer: Sohrabi, Farrokh, MD
Date Last Reviewed: 1/23/2014
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