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.
Anatomy of the Ear
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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 chance of tinnitus include:
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's 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 chance of tinnitus:
American Academy of Otolaryngology—Head and Neck Surgery
American Tinnitus Association
The 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. Updated December 2010. Accessed September 26, 2014.
Tinnitus. American Speech-Language-Hearing Association website. Available at: http://www.asha.org/public/hearing/Tinnitus. Accessed September 26, 2014.
Tinnitus. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: http://www.ebscohost.com/dynamed. Updated February 26, 2014. Accessed September 26, 2014.
Understanding the facts. American Tinnitus Association website. Available at: http://www.ata.org/understanding-facts. Accessed September 26, 2014.
10/16/2009 DynaMed's Systematic Literature Surveillance http://www.ebscohost.com/dynamed: Baldo P, Doree C, Lazzarini R, Molin P, McFerran D. Antidepressants for patients with tinnitus. Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2009;(4):CD003853.
Last reviewed August 2015 by Michael Woods, MD
Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.
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