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Tinnitus, or ringing of the ears, is sound in the head with no external source. It isn't caused by physical noise, and other people usually can't hear it. Tinnitus is a common problem affecting roughly 15% to 20% of people, especially older adults, and is usually caused by an underlying condition such as age-related hearing loss, an ear injury or noise damage. For many people, tinnitus improves with treatment of the underlying cause or with other treatments that reduce or mask the noise, making tinnitus less noticeable.

Symptoms

While tinnitus is most often described as a ringing in the ears, it can also cause other types of phantom noises, including:

  • Buzzing
  • Roaring
  • Clicking
  • Hissing
  • Humming

Risk Factors

Anyone can experience tinnitus, but these factors may increase your risk:

  • Loud noise exposure
  • Age
  • Gender – men are more likely to experience tinnitus
  • Tobacco and alcohol use
  • Head injuries

Most people who have tinnitus have subjective tinnitus, or tinnitus that only they can hear. The noises of tinnitus may vary in pitch from a low roar to a high squeal, and it might be heard in one or both ears. It also might come and go or be present all the time.

In rare cases, tinnitus can occur as a rhythmic pulsing or whooshing sound, often in time with your heartbeat, called pulsatile tinnitus. Our specialists may be able to hear this tinnitus when he or she does an examination (objective tinnitus).

Evaluations for tinnitus

An ear examination will be performed, as tinnitus can often be from wax blocking the ear canals or fluid inside the eardrum. A hearing test will be performed in a soundproof booth. Since tinnitus often accompanies hearing loss, identifying the cause of the hearing loss can help determine what can be done for the tinnitus. Treatment of underlying hearing loss with hearing aids can often help reduce tinnitus.

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