What is Tinnitus?

The Tinnitus Basics
Any feelings of buzzing, hissing, or ringing in the ear is called tinnitus. These noises can be constant or sporadic, but it is often worse when background sounds are low, such as at night when you are trying to fall asleep. Tinnitus is often associated with hearing loss; however, it does not cause hearing loss nor does hearing loss contribute to tinnitus. Tinnitus is commonly caused by excessive exposure to loud noises. Other causes include:

  • Blockages of the ear
  • Ear infections
  • Consuming large amounts of alcohol or caffeinated beverages
  • Dental problems
  • Injuries to the inner ear following surgery
  • Blood flow and nerve problems

There are two main types of tinnitus.

  • Pulsatile tinnitus is when you hear the sounds of your muscle contractions or pulse. It’s caused by the sounds created by muscle movements in the ear; changes in the ear canal; or vascular problems in the face or neck.
  • Nonpulsatile tinnitus sounds as if it’s coming from your head. It’s caused by problems inside the hearing nerves.


Most of the time tinnitus comes and goes and does not require medical treatment. If your tinnitus does not get better, or if it’s accompanied by other symptoms, then a visit with your doctor is the best option. There is no cure for tinnitus, but there are a variety of choices to help you cope with it.