Skip to main content


Medically reviewed by Last updated on Jul 4, 2022.

What is tinnitus?

Tinnitus is when you hear ringing, clicking, buzzing, or hissing in one or both ears. You may also hear whistling, chirping, or pulsing. It may be soft or loud, and at a low or high pitch. Tinnitus that lasts longer than 6 months is considered chronic.

What causes or increases my risk for tinnitus?

Tinnitus may be caused by problems with your hearing system, including the parts of your brain that sort out sounds. Tinnitus may also be caused by a health condition, such as Ménière disease. The following may increase your risk:

  • Age older than 60 years
  • Exposure to loud noise
  • Hearing loss or abnormal bone structure in the ear
  • Ear and sinus infections, or wax buildup
  • Hormone changes in women
  • Diseases of the heart and blood vessels, or brain tumors
  • Certain medicines, such as aspirin, NSAIDs, methotrexate, and erythromycin
  • Anxiety, sleep problems, or depression

How is tinnitus diagnosed?

Your healthcare provider will ask about your symptoms and examine your ears, jaw, and neck. Tell him if you have tinnitus all the time or if it comes and goes. He may ask if anything makes it worse, such as stress or anxiety. You may need any of the following tests:

  • A hearing test may show problems with your ear. Your eardrum and middle ear may also be examined and tested.
  • An ultrasound, CT, MRI, or MRA may show the cause of your tinnitus. You may be given contrast liquid to help the parts of your ear show up better in the pictures. Tell the healthcare provider if you have ever had an allergic reaction to contrast liquid. Do not enter the MRI room with anything metal. Metal can cause serious injury. Tell the healthcare provider if you have any metal in or on your body.

How is tinnitus treated?

You may not need treatment. Your symptoms may only appear when you are anxious or stressed. Your healthcare provider may stop certain medicines that may be causing your tinnitus. You may also need medicines to help decrease your symptoms. The following can help treat or manage tinnitus:

  • Counseling can help you learn ways to relax, decrease stress, and make your tinnitus less noticeable.
  • Cognitive behavioral therapy helps you understand your condition. Your therapist will help you learn to cope with tinnitus. You may also learn new ways to relax and retrain your behavior to decrease your symptoms.
  • Sound therapy, such as white noise machines, may help cover your tinnitus with a pleasant sound. Sound therapy devices can help you fall asleep or help you relax. These devices can be worn in your ear or placed next to your bed at night.
  • Hearing aids or cochlear implants may help if you have hearing loss.
  • Surgery may be needed if your tinnitus is caused by abnormal blood vessels or a mass.
  • Do not smoke. Nicotine decreases blood flow to your ear and can make your tinnitus worse. Do not use e-cigarettes or smokeless tobacco in place of cigarettes or to help you quit. They still contain nicotine. Ask your healthcare provider for information if you currently smoke and need help quitting.
  • Decrease how much alcohol and caffeine you drink. Alcohol and caffeine can make your tinnitus worse.

Treatment options

The following list of medications are in some way related to or used in the treatment of this condition.

How can I help prevent tinnitus?

  • Avoid exposure to loud noise, such as loud music or power tools. Occasional exposure can still cause tinnitus. Move away from the noise or turn down the volume.
  • Wear ear protection when you are exposed to loud noises. Good ear protection includes ear plugs or headphones that reduce noise.

Call 911 if:

  • You feel like hurting yourself or others because of the constant noise.

When should I contact my healthcare provider?

  • You have headaches.
  • You are tired and have trouble concentrating or remembering things.
  • You have more anxiety or stress than usual.
  • You have deep sadness or depression.
  • You have trouble falling asleep or staying asleep.
  • Your symptoms do not go away or they get worse.
  • You have questions or concerns about your condition or care.

Care Agreement

You have the right to help plan your care. Learn about your health condition and how it may be treated. Discuss treatment options with your healthcare providers to decide what care you want to receive. You always have the right to refuse treatment. The above information is an educational aid only. It is not intended as medical advice for individual conditions or treatments. Talk to your doctor, nurse or pharmacist before following any medical regimen to see if it is safe and effective for you.

© Copyright IBM Corporation 2022 Information is for End User's use only and may not be sold, redistributed or otherwise used for commercial purposes. All illustrations and images included in CareNotes® are the copyrighted property of A.D.A.M., Inc. or IBM Watson Health

Learn more about Tinnitus

Treatment options

Symptoms and treatments

Further information

Always consult your healthcare provider to ensure the information displayed on this page applies to your personal circumstances.