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 sound may happen in one or both ears. Sounds may have different tones.

What causes tinnitus?

Tinnitus may be caused by many things, including:

  • Damage to the nerve endings in the inner ear
  • Stiffening of bones in the middle ear
  • Being older
  • Exposure to loud noises
  • Allergy
  • High or low blood pressure
  • Tumor
  • Diabetes
  • Thyroid problems
  • Head or neck injury
  • Reaction to certain medicines
  • Wax buildup
  • Jaw misalignment
  • Certain medicines

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 symptoms, age, and general health. It will also depend on how severe the condition is.

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

  • Hearing aids. These may help some people with tinnitus who have hearing loss. Using a hearing aid may make some sounds louder.
  • Cochlear implants. This option is for those who have tinnitus and severe hearing loss. 
  • Maskers. 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 (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.
  • There are many causes of tinnitus. Each may be addressed differently.
  • 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 instructions 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 provider if you have questions.

Saint Luke’s Hospital Midwest Ear Institute

Saint Luke’s Hospital Midwest Ear Institute is staffed by a team of audiology experts who knows the importance of personalized care, and that one size doesn’t fit all – that’s why we offer patients the full range of hearing restoration services, from comprehensive diagnostics to hearing and balance treatment and our acclaimed cochlear implant program.