Please note: This information was current at the time of publication. But medical information is always changing, and some information given here may be out of date. For regularly updated information on a variety of health topics, please visit, the AAFP patient education website.



Am Fam Physician. 2004 Jan 1;69(1):127-128.

What is tinnitus?

Tinnitus (say “tin-night-us”) is a bothersome sound or noise in your ear. You might hear a ringing noise, or you may hear a roaring, buzzing, whistling, chirping, or hissing sound. Sometimes tinnitus is a symptom of a disease, like an ear infection or Meniere's disease.

What causes tinnitus?

Tinnitus can be caused by an injury to the ear, ear infections, a build-up of wax in the ear, or a number of other ear problems. People who spent a lot of time hearing loud noises like those from construction tools, music, crowds of people, or gun shots might have tinnitus. Tinnitus also can be caused by some pain relievers, antibiotics, antidepressants, and sedatives.

How does my doctor know I have tinnitus?

Usually, only you can hear the tinnitus. Your doctor will examine you to see what could be causing the tinnitus. Your doctor may have you take a hearing test. He or she also may want you to have an x-ray, a CT scan, or MRI of your head. These tests can help your doctor find the cause of your tinnitus. You should tell your doctor about the medicines you are taking, including vitamins and over-the-counter drugs.

How is tinnitus treated?

Treating the cause of the tinnitus may make it go away. Sometimes tinnitus goes away without any treatment. If treatment does not make your tinnitus go away, you can still do some things so the tinnitus will not bother you as much. For example, you can mask the tinnitus noise by listening to music at a low volume. Some people find that a ticking clock in the room helps. If you have hearing problems and tinnitus, a hearing aid might help make the tinnitus less of a bother.

How can I keep my tinnitus from getting worse?

If your tinnitus gets worse with stress, make sure to do things that decrease the stress in your life and help you to relax. Try to get enough sleep. Cut down on the amount of alcohol and caffeine you drink, and stop smoking if you smoke. These things can make your tinnitus worse. Avoid listening to loud noises. If you cannot avoid loud noises, use silicone ear plugs or ear muffs to protect your ears.

How will I be affected by tinnitus?

Tinnitus can bother you all of the time or some of the time. It can be very annoying. Some people have tinnitus that keeps them from working or sleeping. Talk to your doctor if you feel tinnitus is affecting you emotionally.

Where can I get more information about tinnitus?

American Academy of Audiology

Telephone: 1-800-AAA-2336

Web address:

American Academy of Otolaryngology– Head and Neck Surgery (AAO-HNS)

Telephone: 703-836-4444

Web address:

American Tinnitus Association

Telephone: 1-800-634-8978

Web address:

This handout is provided to you by your family doctor and the American Academy of Family Physicians. Other health-related information is available from the AAFP online at

This information provides a general overview and may not apply to everyone. Talk to your family doctor to find out if this information applies to you and to get more information on this subject.


Copyright © 2004 by the American Academy of Family Physicians.
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