Navigate Up

Seniors Center - A-Z Index

#
Q
Y
Z

Print This Page

Tinnitus

Tinnitus is the medical term for "hearing" noises in your ears when there is no outside source of the sounds.

The noises you hear can be soft or loud. They may sound like ringing, blowing, roaring, buzzing, hissing, humming, whistling, or sizzling. You may even think you are hearing air escaping, water running, the inside of a seashell, or musical notes.

Alternative Names

Ringing in the ears; Noises or buzzing in the ears; Ear buzzing

Considerations

Tinnitus is common. Almost everyone notices a mild form of tinnitus once in a while that only lasts a few minutes. However, constant or recurring tinnitus is stressful and make it harder to focus or sleep.

Common Causes

It is not known exactly what causes a person to "hear" sounds with no outside source of the noise. However, tinnitus can be a symptom of almost any ear problem, including:

Alcohol, caffeine, antibiotics, aspirin, or other drugs can also cause ear noises.

Tinnitus may occur with hearing loss. Sometimes, it is a sign of high blood pressure, an allergy, or anemia . Rarely, tinnitus is a sign of a serious problem like a tumor or aneurysm .

Home Care

Tinnitus can be masked by competing sounds:

  • Low-level music, ticking clocks, or other noises may help you not notice the tinnitus.
  • Tinnitus is often more noticeable when you go to bed at night because your surroundings are quieter. Any noise in the room, like a humidifier, white noise machine, or dishwasher, can help mask tinnitus and make it less irritating.

Learn ways to relax. Stress does not cause tinnitus, but feeling stressed or anxious can worsen it.

Avoid caffeine, alcohol, and smoking.

Get enough rest. Try sleeping with your head propped up in an elevated position. This lessens head congestion and noises may become less noticeable.

Protect your ears and hearing from further damage. Avoid loud places and sounds. Use earplugs if you need them.

When to Contact a Medical Professional

Call your doctor or nurse if:

  • Ear noises start after a head injury.
  • The noises¬†occur with other unexplained symptoms like dizziness, feeling off balance, nausea, or vomiting.
  • You have unexplained ear noises that bother you even after self-help measures.
  • The noise is only in one ear and continues for several weeks or long.

What to Expect at Your Office Visit

The following tests may be done:

TREATMENTS

If your doctor can determine the cause, fixing the problem (for example, removing ear wax) may make your symptoms go away.

Review all of your current medicines, including over-the-counter drugs, vitamins, and supplements with your health care provider. Do not stop taking any medications without first talking to your provider.

Many medicines have been used to relieve symptoms of tinnitus, but no drug works for everyone.

A tinnitus masker worn like a hearing aid helps some people. It delivers low-level sound directly into the ear to cover or disguise the ear noise that is bothering you.

A hearing aid may help reduce ear noise and make outside sounds louder.

Sometimes, counseling may help you learn to live with tinnitus. Your doctor may recommend biofeedback training to help with stress.

Some people have tried alternative therapies to treat tinnitus. However, such methods have not been proven. Talk to your doctor before trying any of these alternative therapies.

The American Tinnitus Association offers a good resource center and support group.

Prevention

Wear ear protection in any situations where ear damage is possible (such as loud concerts or jackhammers). If you have hearing loss, avoid further damage to your hearing by avoiding excessive noise.

References

Heller AJ. Classification and epidemiology of tinnitus. Otolaryngol Clin North Am. 2003; 36(2): 239-248.

Sismanis A. Tinnitus. Advances in evaluation and management. Otolaryngol Clin North Am. 2003; 36(2): xi-xii.

Bauer CA. Tinnitus and hyperacusis. In: Cummings CW, Flint PW, Haughey BH, et al, eds. Otolaryngology: Head & Neck Surgery. 5th ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Mosby Elsevier;2010:chap 150.

Updated: 8/30/2012

David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, A.D.A.M. Health Solutions, Ebix, Inc., and Seth Schwartz, MD, MPH, Otolaryngologist, Virginia Mason Medical Center, Seattle, Washington


©  UPMC | Affiliated with the University of Pittsburgh Schools of the Health Sciences
Supplemental content provided by A.D.A.M. Health Solutions. All rights reserved.

For help in finding a doctor or health service that suits your needs, call the UPMC Referral Service at 412-647-UPMC (8762) or 1-800-533-UPMC (8762). Select option 1.

UPMC is an equal opportunity employer. UPMC policy prohibits discrimination or harassment on the basis of race, color, religion, ancestry, national origin, age, sex, genetics, sexual orientation, marital status, familial status, disability, veteran status, or any other legally protected group status. Further, UPMC will continue to support and promote equal employment opportunity, human dignity, and racial, ethnic, and cultural diversity. This policy applies to admissions, employment, and access to and treatment in UPMC programs and activities. This commitment is made by UPMC in accordance with federal, state, and/or local laws and regulations.

Medical information made available on UPMC.com is not intended to be used as a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. You should not rely entirely on this information for your health care needs. Ask your own doctor or health care provider any specific medical questions that you have. Further, UPMC.com is not a tool to be used in the case of an emergency. If an emergency arises, you should seek appropriate emergency medical services.

For UPMC Mercy Patients: As a Catholic hospital, UPMC Mercy abides by the Ethical and Religious Directives for Catholic Health Care Services, as determined by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. As such, UPMC Mercy neither endorses nor provides medical practices and/or procedures that contradict the moral teachings of the Roman Catholic Church.

© UPMC
Pittsburgh, PA, USA UPMC.com