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What is tinnitus?

Tinnitus is the sound of ringing in the ears. It may also be described as roaring, buzzing, hissing, or clicking inside the head. The sounds may come and go. Or they may be ongoing. The sounds range in severity from a mild distraction to a disabling condition. The sound may happen in one or both ears. Sounds may have different tones.

What causes tinnitus?

Tinnitus may be caused by many things, including:

  • Various types of hearing loss

  • Damage to the nerve endings in the inner ear

  • Exposure to loud noises

  • Ear and sinus infections

  • High or low blood pressure

  • Tumor

  • Diabetes

  • Thyroid problems

  • Head or neck injury

  • Reaction to certain medicines

  • Wax buildup

  • Jaw misalignment

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 they have trouble sleeping.

How is tinnitus diagnosed?

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

How is tinnitus treated?

Treatment will depend on your age, general health, and how severe your symptoms are.

Currently there is no known cure for tinnitus. But experts suggest trying 1 of the following to find relief:

  • Hearing aids. These may help some people with tinnitus who have hearing loss. Using a hearing aid helps make the sounds louder that you are having trouble hearing. This may reduce the tinnitus.

  • Cochlear implants. This option is for those who have tinnitus and severe hearing loss. 

  • Maskers or sound generators. 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.

  • Medicines. Some medicines may ease tinnitus by addressing a problem linked to the condition. Medicines may also improve mood or sleep.

  • Tinnitus retraining therapy. This therapy uses a combination of counseling and maskers. An ear, nose, and throat doctor (ENT or otolaryngologist) or a hearing specialist (audiologist) can help you learn how to deal with the tinnitus.

  • Counseling. You may find it helpful to meet with a counselor or support group.

  • Relaxation. This may provide relief as stress may make tinnitus worse.

Living with tinnitus

Tinnitus can affect your quality of life. Your healthcare provider may be able to figure out the underlying cause, which can then be treated. Work with your healthcare provider to come up with ways to reduce tinnitus.

Key points about tinnitus

  • Tinnitus is the sound of ringing, roaring, buzzing, hissing, or clicking that happens inside the head.

  • The sounds may come and go. Or they may be ongoing.

  • There are many causes of tinnitus. Each may be addressed differently.

  • Tinnitus can affect your quality of life.

  • Treatment varies from use of hearing aids, maskers, and medicine to counseling and relaxation methods.

Next steps

Tips to help you get the most from a visit to your healthcare provider:

  • Know the reason for your visit and what you want to happen.

  • 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 name of a new diagnosis, and any new medicines, treatments, or tests. Also write down any new directions your provider gives you.

  • Know why a new medicine or treatment is prescribed, and how it will help you. Also know what the side effects are.

  • Ask if your condition can be treated in other ways.

  • Know why a test or procedure is recommended and what the results could mean.

  • Know what to expect if you do not take the medicine or have the test or procedure.

  • If you have a follow-up appointment, write down the date, time, and purpose for that visit.

  • Know how you can contact your healthcare provider if you have questions.

Online Medical Reviewer: Dan Brennan MD
Online Medical Reviewer: Sumana Jothi MD
Online Medical Reviewer: Tara Novick BSN MSN
Date Last Reviewed: 5/1/2023
© 2000-2024 The StayWell Company, LLC. All rights reserved. This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your healthcare professional's instructions.
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