Feature Archive

The Ringing and Buzzing of Tinnitus

Ear Rings

By Rod Moser
WebMD Feature

Tinnitus -- "ringing in the ears" -- affects an estimated 35 million Americans. But tinnitus isn't just a ringing, it can also be heard as a buzzing, roaring, hissing, clicking, high-pitched whining, low-pitched hum, even a heart-like pulsing.

Tinnitus is actually a symptom of some common medical problems, such as:

  • ear infection
  • wax impaction
  • noise exposure (like rock concerts)
  • TMJ (temporomandibular joint) disorders
  • even a side effect of medications such as aspirin, ibuprofen, caffeine, or birth control pills

Tinnitus may also be a symptom of more serious illnesses such as high blood pressure, anxiety/depression, diabetes, thyroid disorders, Meniere's disease, blood vessel disorders, or tumors.

There are two types of tinnitus:

  • subjective tinnitus, when the sounds a sufferer hears may be perceived as very loud and only heard by them
  • objective tinnitus, a less common condition when the sounds can be heard by the sufferer and a medical provider using a stethoscope

Finding a cause for tinnitus can be simple or require extensive diagnostic tests. In many cases, a cause is never found -- a frustrating fact for many tinnitus sufferers and their medical providers.

If a cause is determined, then treatment can be quite focused. For example, if a tinnitus sufferer is taking aspirin and is found to have high blood pressure, the aspirin is stopped and medications are given to control the blood pressure.

Even if a specific cause is never found, there is still hope for successful treatment. A combination of therapies over time usually offer the best hope.