Tinnitus

  • Medical Author:
    Benjamin Wedro, MD, FACEP, FAAEM

    Dr. Ben Wedro practices emergency medicine at Gundersen Clinic, a regional trauma center in La Crosse, Wisconsin. His background includes undergraduate and medical studies at the University of Alberta, a Family Practice internship at Queen's University in Kingston, Ontario and residency training in Emergency Medicine at the University of Oklahoma Health Sciences Center.

  • Medical Editor: Steven Doerr, MD
    Steven Doerr, MD

    Steven Doerr, MD

    Steven Doerr, MD, is a U.S. board-certified Emergency Medicine Physician. Dr. Doerr received his undergraduate degree in Spanish from the University of Colorado at Boulder. He graduated with his Medical Degree from the University Of Colorado Health Sciences Center in Denver, Colorado in 1998 and completed his residency training in Emergency Medicine from Denver Health Medical Center in Denver, Colorado in 2002, where he also served as Chief Resident.

Hearing Ringing in Your Ears?

Quick GuideTinnitus (Ringing in the Ears) Causes, Symptoms, Remedies and Treatments

Tinnitus (Ringing in the Ears) Causes, Symptoms, Remedies and Treatments

What are the symptoms of tinnitus?

  • The sound of tinnitus may be constant or it may come and go intermittently.
  • It may be throbbing.
  • It may occur in one ear or in both ears.
  • Most often, the sound is a high pitched continuous tone, but it may also be described by the patient as a click, buzz, or a hum.
  • Tinnitus is often associated with hearing loss and the patient may complain of decreased hearing, even if the tinnitus is absent.

What kind of doctor treats tinnitus?

Often tinnitus can be evaluated by a primary-care doctor or internist, but if consultation is needed, an otolaryngologist (ear, nose and throat doctor) is the specialist that evaluates and cares for people with tinnitus. Audiologists are trained to perform hearing tests and assessments.

How is tinnitus diagnosed?

The patient's history and description of symptoms is the key in determining what might be causing tinnitus.

The health-care professional may ask questions in regard to the quality of the abnormal sound, and whether it is constantly present or whether if it comes and goes. Other questions may include the following:

  • Does it involve one or both ears?
  • Does the sound pulsate, or does it sound like a rush or flow?
  • Does it click?
  • Has there been recurrent exposure to loud noises or sound at work, at home or at play?
  • Is there associated decreased hearing or hearing loss?
  • Does the person feel a sensation of spinning (vertigo)?

Medications: Be prepared to provide the health-care professional a list of medications including over-the-counter (OTC) and supplements to review since tinnitus may be a side effect of certain medications.

Physical exam: Physical examination will focus on the head and neck, and especially the ears, including the auditory canals and tympanic membranes. Since the sense of hearing is conducted through one of the cranial nerves (the short nerves that lead directly from the brain to the face, head and neck), a careful neurologic exam also may be performed. Weakness or numbness in the face, mouth, and neck may be associated with a tumor or other structural abnormality pressing on a nerve. The health-care professional may listen over the carotid arteries in the neck for an abnormal sound (bruit), since carotid artery stenosis (narrowing of the artery) can transmit a sound to the ear that may cause tinnitus.

Hearing test: An audiogram or hearing test may be performed to look for associated hearing loss in one or both ears.

Imaging: Depending upon the suspected underlying cause of tinnitus, radiology tests may be performed to image the head and neck, including the structures of the ear. These imaging tests may include CT scan, MRI and ultrasound.

Referral to a specialist: Consultation with the appropriate specialist may be needed, both for diagnosis and treatment.

Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 11/24/2015

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