Tinnitus is the perception of abnormal ear or head noises. Tinnitus is unpleasant enough itself. It is also sometimes a symptom of other problems, including hearing loss, tumors, and narrowing of the blood vessels.
Noises may be high pitched and “ringing,” or sound more like a clicking. Some tinnitus is pulsatile. This means that it may be caused by the flow of blood that accompanies each heartbeat. This type of tinnitus is a result of the narrowing of the blood vessels.
Many diseases and conditions are associated with tinnitus, including:
Occasional episodes of tinnitus lasting at most a few minutes are quite common in normal people, especially after exposure to loud noises.
Your risk of tinnitus increases with:
The sensations of tinnitus may have the following characteristics:
Sometimes tinnitus is accompanied by hearing loss and vertigo.
Call your doctor if you have tinnitus, especially if it:
The doctor will ask about your symptoms and medical history, and perform a physical exam. Special attention will be paid to your head, neck, and ears.
You will be asked questions about:
The doctor will look at your ear canal and eardrum using an instrument with a light that is held at the external opening of the ear. A tuning fork can help evaluate hearing. You should receive a complete hearing test. Other tests, such as a magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scan, may be ordered to rule out serious conditions.
Tinnitus treatment depends on what is causing the symptoms. This may mean, for example:
Therapy aims to eliminate or reduce bothersome sensations. Treatment may include:
No medicine has been shown to be very effective in treating tinnitus. Your doctor may still try to use some medicines to help your symptoms, though. Examples of medicines often tried include antidepressants and sedatives.
If you have Meniere's disease, your doctor may prescribe medicine to treat that condition.
Measures to discuss with your doctor if no cure or specific treatment is available include:
Surgery may help relieve certain causes of tinnitus if the cause of the tinnitus is treated.
You may be able to prevent tinnitus from developing with a few simple measures:
American Academy of Otolaryngology—Head and Neck Surgery
American Tinnitus Association
The Canadian Hearing Society
Canadian Society of Otolaryngology
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Last reviewed September 2012 by Kari Kassir, MD
Last Updated: 09/10/2012