Tinnitus

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Tinnitus facts

  • Tinnitus is abnormal ear noise.
  • Tinnitus can arise in any of the four sections of the ear: the outer ear, the middle ear, the inner ear, and the brain.
  • In addition to ringing in the ears, other symptoms associated with tinnitus include:
  • Persisting unexplained tinnitus is evaluated with a hearing test (audiogram).
  • Measures can be taken to lessen the intensity of tinnitus.

What causes tinnitus?

Tinnitus is a symptom, not a disease, and it has a variety of causes that may arise anywhere in the hearing mechanism. It begins in the ear with the tympanic membrane and the cochlea, where sound is transmitted into electrical energy for the brain to perceive.

  • Tinnitus that is throbbing (pulsatile) may be due to blood flow through arteries and veins adjacent to the ear, as well as tumors that are vascular, having increased blood flow within them.
  • Tinnitus that is described as clicking may be due to abnormalities that cause the muscle in the roof of the mouth (palate) to go into spasm. This causes the Eustachian tube, which helps equalize pressure in the ears, to repeatedly open and close. Multiple sclerosis and other neurologic diseases that are associated with muscle spasms may also be a cause of tinnitus, as they may also lead to spasms of certain muscles in the middle ear that can cause the repetitive clicking.
  • Temporomandibular joint (TMJ) abnormalities may cause a repeated clicking sound in the ear.
  • Damage to the vestibulocochlear nerve, responsible for transmitting sound from the ear to the brain may cause tinnitus. This may be due to drug toxicity or tumor (for example, acoustic neuroma).
  • Meniere's disease, which is associated with hearing loss and vertigo, may also cause tinnitus.
  • As people age, their hearing may decrease and there can be associated tinnitus.
  • Otosclerosis, which is caused by abnormal bone growth in the middle ear, can sometimes cause tinnitus.
  • Trauma may also be a cause of tinnitus and hearing loss. This includes barotrauma, whereby air pressure changes can damage ear function.

Picture of the Ear Anatomy
Picture of the Ear Anatomy
Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 11/22/2013

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Ring in your ears

Tinnitus Symptoms

Together with other abnormal ear noises, ear ringing is medically called tinnitus. Buzzing, roaring, and pulsitile sounds are sometimes perceived when no sound is present in persons with tinnitus.

Tinnitus can arise in any of the four sections of the ear: the outer ear, the middle ear, the inner ear, and the brain. Tinnitus is often accompanied by hearing loss. For a description of the anatomy of the ear, see MedicineNet.com's the Anatomy of Hearing and Balance article.