What is Tinnitus?

Tired fatigued senior female employee suffering from tinnitus

Tinnitus Explained

Tinnitus is an abnormal noise in the ear experienced by nearly 36 million Americans.  Altogether, more than half the population has experienced ringing or buzzing sounds in the ear.  Approximately, 7 million Americans are so severely affected that they cannot lead normal lives. Commonly described as a ringing in the ears, tinnitus can also sound like roaring, clicking, hissing, or buzzing.  Patients describe tinnitus in many ways as soft and loud, high pitched or low pitched and occurring in one or both ears.


Patients describe tinnitus in many different ways.  However, there are primarily two types of tinnitus, subjective and objective.

  • Subjective tinnitus heard only by the patient is the most common type.
  • Objective tinnitus heard outside of the patient’s head.


Tinnitus is not a disease. It is a symptom that something is wrong in the auditory system.  The auditory system includes the ear, the nerve that connects the inner ear to the brain, and the parts of the brain that process sound. Something as simple as a piece of earwax blocking the ear canal can cause tinnitus. Some health conditions can also result in ringing in the ears including:

  • Exposure to loud noise
  • Middle ear infection
  • Injury to the nerve from the ear to the brain
  • Increased pressure in the head
  • Hardening of the arteries
  • Brain tumors
  • Exposure to loud noise

Many medications can also cause ringing in the ears. Consequently, the list is lengthy.  Here are a few examples of medications that can cause ringing in the ears.

  • Anti-inflammatory Medications
  • Beta-blockers
  • Antidepressants
  • Diuretics
  • Certain Antibiotics
  • Chemotherapy
  • Marijuana
  • Oral Contraceptives
  • Aspirin

Can it Get Worse?

Noise-induced hearing loss is one of the most common causes of tinnitus. Therefore, try to limit your exposure to loud noise as much as possible.  A few suggestions to lessen the impact of noise would include the following:

  • Move away from the sound.
  • Turn down the volume.
  • Wear earplugs or other hearing protection.

How is Tinnitus Diagnosed?

The diagnosis of tinnitus relies on a patient’s self-report of the symptom. If you experience ringing or buzzing in the ear, you should have an examination of your ears and a hearing test.   Additional testing may be suggested based on both your medical history and the outcome of your examination.