Tinnitus: What Causes Ringing In the Ears?

What Is Tinnitus?

ringing in the ears

Tinnitus, often referred to as “ringing in the ears,” is characterized by a buzzing, hissing, or whirling sound in the ears. These sounds can last for a few seconds or be constant and can vary in volume from very faint to distractingly loud. The condition is very common, affecting an estimated 50 million people worldwide. While tinnitus itself is not harmful, it can be disorienting to the point that it has a significant impact on quality of life.


The most common cause of tinnitus is frequent exposure to loud noise. In some cases, tinnitus occurs as the result of an underlying condition or lifestyle factors including, but not limited to:

  • Chiari Malformation
  • Inner ear trauma
  • Ear infection
  • Benign tumors
  • Ear wax buildup
  • Aging
  • Meniere’s Disease
  • Otosclerosis
  • High blood pressure
  • Cardiovascular disease
  • Circulatory issues
  • Anemia
  • Underactive thyroid
  • Diabetes
  • Injury to the head or neck
  • Autoimmune diseases
  • Allergies
  • Temporomandibular Joint Syndrome


Subjective Tinnitus

Subjective tinnitus is the most common type of tinnitus. It refers to ringing in the ears that is heard only by the individual and can be constant or intermittent.

Objective Tinnitus

Objective tinnitus is a rare type of tinnitus in which the ringing in the ears is so loud that people around the individual can hear it. This ringing may be constant or intermittent.


  • Ringing or buzzing in the ears (intermittent or constant)
  • Difficulty hearing
  • Heart palpitations
  • Lightheadedness
  • Dizziness



Your primary care physician can diagnose tinnitus based on a physical examination and assessment of your symptoms. They will likely refer you to an ENT (ear, nose, and throat specialist) to rule out certain underlying causes that affect the ear. They may also order diagnostic imaging, such as a CT or MRI scan to rule out certain structural causes.


Most people do not seek treatment for their tinnitus, as it is more of a nuisance than a harmful condition. In many cases, treating the underlying cause of the tinnitus will eventually resolve the ringing in the ears.

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