Tinnitus is the perception of abnormal ear or head noises without any external sound. Noises may be high pitched, ringing, clicking, or buzzing. Pulsatile tinnitus is caused by the flow of blood that accompanies each heartbeat.
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Tinnitus may be caused by:
Occasional episodes of tinnitus lasting at most a few minutes are quite common in most people, especially after exposure to loud noises.
Factors that may increase your chances of tinnitus:
The sensations of tinnitus may have the following characteristics:
Sometimes tinnitus is accompanied by hearing loss and vertigo, a sensation of spinning while standing still.
Call your doctor if you have tinnitus, especially if it:
The doctor will ask about your symptoms and medical history. A physical exam will be done. 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. Imaging tests, such as a CT or MRI scan, may be ordered to rule out serious conditions.
In addition to hearing the test may include:
Tinnitus treatment depends on what is causing the symptoms. This may mean:
Therapy aims to eliminate or reduce bothersome sensations. Treatment may include:
No medication has been shown to be very effective in treating tinnitus. Your doctor may still try to use some medications to ease your symptoms. These may include antidepressants and sedatives.
If you have Meniere disease, your doctor may prescribe medication 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. These include:
To help reduce your chances of tinnitus:
American Academy of Otolaryngology—Head and Neck Surgery
American Tinnitus Association
Canadian Hearing Society
Canadian Society of Otolaryngology—Head and Neck Surgery
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Tinnitus. American Academy of Otolaryngology—Head and Neck Surgery website. Available at: http://www.entnet.org/?q=node/1324. Accessed September 27, 2017.
Tinnitus. American Speech-Language-Hearing Association website. Available at: http://www.asha.org/public/hearing/Tinnitus. Accessed September 27, 2017.
Tinnitus. EBSCO DynaMed Plus website. Available at:http://www.dynamed.com/topics/dmp~AN~T116486/Tinnitus. Updated June 1, 2017. Accessed September 27, 2017.
Understanding the facts. American Tinnitus Association website. Available at: https://www.ata.org/understanding-facts. Accessed September 27, 2017.
10/16/2009 DynaMed Plus Systematic Literature Surveillancehttp://www.dynamed.com/topics/dmp~AN~T116486/Tinnitus: Baldo P, Doree C, Lazzarini R, Molin P, McFerran D. Antidepressants for patients with tinnitus. Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2009;(4):CD003853.
Last reviewed September 2018 by EBSCO Medical Review Board Marcie L. Sidman, MD Last Updated: 9/14/2016