Ringing in the Ears
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.
Tinnitus is caused by:
Occasional episodes of tinnitus lasting at most a few minutes are quite common in normal people, especially after exposure to loud noises.
Factors that may increase your chance of developing tinnitus include:
The Center for Communication and Hearing maintains an updated list of medications that are associated with tinnitus.
The sensations of tinnitus may have the following characteristics:
Sometimes tinnitus is accompanied by hearing loss and vertigo.
When Should I Call My Doctor?
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 scan or MRI, may be ordered to rule out serious conditions.
A hearing test includes:
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's disease, your doctor may prescribe medication to treat that condition.
Lifestyle and Self-care Measures
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 chance of developing tinnitus, take these steps:
American Academy of Otolaryngology—Head and Neck Surgery
American Tinnitus Association
The Canadian Hearing Society
Canadian Society of Otolaryngology
About tinnitus. American Tinnitus Association website. Available at: http://www.ata.org/for-patients/about-tinnitus . Accessed September 20, 2013.
Acute otitis media. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: http://www.ebscohost.com/dynamed.ebscohost.com/about/about-us . Updated June 3, 2013. Accessed September 20, 2013.
Conn HF, Rakel. Conn’s Current Therapy. 54th ed. Philadelphia, PA: WB Saunders Company; 2002.
Goroll A, Mulley A. Primary Care Medicine. 4th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Lippincott Williams & Wilkins; 2000.
Tinnitus. American Speech-Language-Hearing Association website. Available at: http://www.asha.org/public/hearing/Tinnitus . Accessed September 20, 2013.
Tinnitus. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: http://www.ebscohost.com/dynamed.ebscohost.com/about/about-us . Updated July 1, 2013. Accessed September 20, 2013.
Tinnitus. American Academy of Otolaryngology—Head and Neck Surgery website. Available at: http://www.entnet.org/HealthInformation/tinnitus.cfm . Accessed July 7, 2009.
10/16/2009 DynaMed's Systematic Literature Surveillance https://dynamed.ebscohost.com/about/about-us : 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 2013 by Michael Woods, MD