Tinnitus is a problem that causes you to hear a noise in one ear or both ears. People commonly think of it as ringing in the ear, but it also can be roaring, clicking, buzzing or other sounds. Some people who have tinnitus hear a more complex noise that changes over time. You may hear the noise constantly, or it may come and go.
In most cases, people who have tinnitus hear noise in their head when no outside sound is there. This type of tinnitus is called “subjective tinnitus.” It can happen because certain nerves are not functioning normally or because there is a problem with part of your ear. In rare cases, tinnitus is caused by an actual sound that occurs inside or near the ear, such as from nearby blood vessels. This type of tinnitus is called “objective tinnitus.”
The following are among the most common causes of tinnitus:
In many cases, the cause of tinnitus cannot be identified.
Your doctor will probably take a detailed medical history. He or she will want to know about any medical conditions you may have and any history of infections. Your doctor also needs to know what medicines you are taking, including herbal products. He or she will check your ears and may give you a hearing test or do other tests to find out what is causing your tinnitus.
Treatment will depend on what is causing your tinnitus. For example, if a drug you are taking causes your tinnitus, your doctor may recommend you stop taking that drug. Remember you should never stop taking a prescription drug without talking to your doctor first.
If an underlying condition, such as high blood pressure, causes your tinnitus, your doctor can create a treatment plan for you to follow. Usually, tinnitus goes away once the condition that is causing it is treated.
When no specific cause can be identified, your doctor will probably focus on making your tinnitus easier to tolerate. Some possible methods include the following:
To prevent tinnitus or keep it from getting worse, avoid long-term exposure to loud noises and activities that put you at risk for hearing loss. If you know you’re going to be around loud noises, take precautions by wearing earplugs or earmuffs. If you listen to music through headphones, keep the volume low.
If you have tinnitus, avoid things that seem to make it worse. These may include nicotine, alcohol or caffeine.
Written by familydoctor.org editorial staff