What is Tinnitus?

Tinnitus is a condition that is most known for a ringing in the ears.

For some people it may sound like clicking, roaring, buzzing, or hissing. It can be high or low pitches and it can be soft or loud.  Some people hear it in both ears, while others only hear it in one ear.

Tinnitus can be caused by a variety of situations. For some it is simply getting older while for others the cause is being exposed to loud noises.

Other situations that have caused tinnitus include sinus or ear infections, heart problems, hormonal changes in women, or medications. Tinnitus can also be a symptoms of a more serious conditions like thyroid problems, brain tumors, or Meniere’s disease.

Tinnitus is often described as a ringing in the ears. It also can sound like roaring, clicking, hissing, or buzzing. It may be soft or loud, high pitched or low pitched. You might hear it in either one or both ears.

What are the Symptoms of Tinnitus?

The most common symptom of tinnitus is hearing noises that no one else can hear.  It varies from a buzzing or ringing in the ears to the sound of click or rushing that might coincide with your heartbeat.

For some people, tinnitus may be accompanied by a loss of hearing or dizziness, which is a sign of Meniere’s disease.

Tinnitus Causes

Tinnitus is usually caused by exposure to loud noise. People who work for many years in very loud environments, such as factories, music venues or construction sites are more likely to develop the condition. Similarly, people who work with firearms are at high risk.

Those who regularly attend loud concerts may develop tinnitus, or they may notice a temporary ringing in the ears for a few hours or days following a concert.

Sometimes tinnitus can be caused by a blow to head, but usually in these cases it is only temporary. A build up of earwax can also cause it. Some people experience it during middle ear infections or for a short time afterwards.

Tinnitus sometimes occurs alongside another condition, such as Meniere’s disease, vertigo and ostosclerosis. In these instances, it is not clear if the tinnitus is caused by the other condition, or if the cause of the other condition also happens to cause tinnitus.

Finally, tinnitus can simply occur with age. It’s natural to experience a certain amount of hearing loss as we get older, and tinnitus can be a symptom of this.

How is Tinnitus Treated?

The treatment for tinnitus can vary and will depend on what the cause is.

Medications may help treat the problem that is causing the tinnitus.  Other treatments include decreasing stress, biofeedback, or making changes in your lifestyle.

Tinnitus Prevention

The best way to prevent tinnitus is to protect the ears against damage from very loud noise. Those who work in environments where noise cannot be avoided should wear adequate ear protection and when not working should make an effort to spend time in very quiet, peaceful environments to allow their ears to recover.

Wearing ear plugs is also incredibly important when attending concerts or clubs. Ear protectors should also be worn when using firearms, for example at a shooting range. It’s also important to avoid turning the volume too high when listening to music via headphones; if other people can hear the music while the headphones or buds are on or in your ears, it is too loud.

Since compacted ear wax and ear infections can cause tinnitus, it’s important to learn some basic ear care habits. Do not use Q-tips or other pointed objects to clean the ear canals, as this could damage the ear drum and can push wax further into the canal where it can become compacted. Earwax is necessary for the ears to self-clean, but if you worry that you have a buildup of wax you should visit your doctor to have it safely removed.

The outer ear can be cleaned with a washcloth or tissue. Avoid getting soap into the ear canal as this could cause irritation or infection.

Last Reviewed:
October 11, 2016
Last Updated:
September 11, 2017