Tinnitus fills your ears with sound no one else hears. It’s a common problem affecting more than 50 million people in the United States. Tinnitus can be severe, affecting people’s daily lives. Tinnitus isn’t a disease. It’s a symptom of several medical conditions. Healthcare providers can’t cure tinnitus but they can help manage its impact.
If you have tinnitus, your head is filled with sound — ringing, whistling, clicking and roaring — that no one else hears. Tinnitus (tin-NITE-us or TIN-ne-tus) can be sounds that are so soft you may not notice them or so loud they block out sounds coming from external sources.
Tinnitus is a common problem that affects more than 50 million people in the United States. For about 12 million Americans, tinnitus is a constant and noisy companion that affects their daily lives. People who have tinnitus may have trouble sleeping or concentrating. Living with tinnitus can make people feel angry, frustrated and depressed.
Healthcare providers may be able to cure tinnitus by treating the underlying condition. When they can’t, they recommend tactics to reduce its impact.
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Healthcare providers don’t know exactly what causes tinnitus. They think abnormal activity in the part of your brain that processes sound may be responsible for tinnitus, but they don’t know how or why, or how to prevent that activity.
Tinnitus is a symptom of more than 75% of all disorders that affect our ears. Most people who have hearing loss also have tinnitus. Here are some ways people develop hearing loss that causes tinnitus:
You can have tinnitus without hearing loss. Providers link tinnitus to about 200 different health conditions. Here are some examples:
Rarely, you may have tinnitus when your blood rushes through the major arteries and veins in your neck. This kind of tinnitus involves sound timed to your pulse or pulsatile tinnitus.
Pulsatile tinnitus may happen because you have anemia (reduced red blood cell flow) or atherosclerosis (blocked arteries). People who have high blood pressure (hypertension) are more likely to develop pulsatile tinnitus than people who have normal blood pressure.
Rarely, tinnitus in one ear may be a sign you have a middle ear tumor (glomus tympanicum). Tinnitus along with trouble walking, speaking or balancing may be a sign you have a neurological condition. Contact your healthcare provider if you notice these signs.
Tinnitus isn’t a condition or disease. It’s a symptom of other conditions. Here are some steps your provider may take to learn more about your tinnitus:
If your healthcare provider has ruled out medical conditions apart from hearing loss, their next step is recommending ways to manage the impact of tinnitus on your life. Here are some examples:
Protecting your hearing is one of the best ways to avoid tinnitus. Start protecting your ears by thinking about all your regular activities. You may not realize all the ways you expose your ears to loud noises and sounds. Here are some potential activities that may affect your hearing:
A note from Cleveland Clinic
Tinnitus is a common problem that may be a sign of an underlying medical condition, including hearing loss. Tinnitus can make it hard for you to sleep and concentrate. It can disrupt your daily life, making you feel frustrated, angry and depressed. Many times healthcare providers can’t find a reason why you have tinnitus. Unfortunately, providers don’t have treatment to silence tinnitus. They do have many ways to help you manage tinnitus.
Last reviewed by a Cleveland Clinic medical professional on 04/18/2022.
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