Symptoms and causes of tinnitus

What are the symptoms of tinnitus?

Tinnitus symptoms vary with each person who has it. But universally, it’s the sensation of a prolonged noise that you “hear” in your ear. Most describe the noise as “ringing in the ears,” though others describe it as hissing, buzzing, whistling, roaring or chirping.

For some, tinnitus is infrequent or temporary and “not that bad” — noticeable mostly when their surroundings are still and quiet. For others, the noise is severe and constant — seemingly impossible to ignore profoundly affecting their quality of life.

What causes tinnitus?

Scientists and health experts don't know the exact physical cause of tinnitus, but several sources are known to trigger or make tinnitus worse, including:

  • Loud noises and hearing loss – Exposure to loud noises is the biggest cause of tinnitus. It can destroy the non-regenerative cilia (tiny hairs) in the cochlea, causing permanent tinnitus and/or hearing loss.
  • Aging – As you age, those same cilia gradually deteriorate, which can lead to tinnitus and/or hearing loss.
  • Ototoxic medications – Some prescription medications such as antibiotics, anti-inflammatories and antidepressants are harmful to the inner ear as well as the nerve fibers connecting the cochlea to the brain.
  • Hearing conditions – Conditions such as otosclerosis and Ménière’s disease are known to cause tinnitus.
  • Health conditions – Tinnitus can also be a symptom of health conditions like cardiovascular disease, hypertension, stress and head injuries.