What is Tinnitus?

Tinnitus, tin’-it-us or tin-night’-us (either pronunciation is correct), is the name given to the perception of a phantom sound “in the ears” and/or “in the head” with no external source. Tinnitus noises are frequently described as ringing, whistling, buzzing, or humming.

The phantom noise(s) may be heard in one ear, both ears, or in the middle of the head, or it may be difficult to pinpoint its exact location. The noise may be low, medium, or high-pitched. There may be a single noise or two or more components. The noise may be continuous, or it may come and go.

Who Gets Tinnitus?

Experiences of tinnitus are very common in all age groups, especially following exposure to loud noise. Almost 36 million Americans suffer from tinnitus. Various studies have shown that it can occur at any age, even in quite young children. Mild tinnitus is common – about 10% of the population has it all the time, and for up to 1% of adults, it may affect quality of life.

What Causes Tinnitus?

Tinnitus is not a disease or an illness; it is a symptom generated within one’s own auditory pathways. Although it is assumed that tinnitus occurs as a result of a disease of the ears, this is often not the cause. The precise cause of tinnitus is still not fully understood, but it is usually associated with some hearing deficits.

Some Physiologic Causes of Tinnitus Include:

  • Conditions that disturb the fluid balance of the inner ear
  • Conditions that cause deterioration of the inner ear or auditory nerve
  • Ear canal obstruction from wax, a foreign body, or infection
  • Hearing loss and auditory deprivation
  • Middle ear pathology such as middle ear infections, allergies, traumatic injuries, scar tissue, or impaired motion of the 3 middle ear bones
  • Muscle spasms
  • Side effects from some medications
  • Stress and fatigue
  • Tumors of the auditory pathway
  • Temporomandibular joint syndrome (TMJ)
  • Vascular problems

Tinnitus Treatments Can Include:

  • Alternative treatments, like vitamins, acupuncture, or other alternatives
  • Amplification, or hearing aids
  • Biofeedback, which is a relaxation technique
  • Cochlear implants (for those with profound hearing loss)
  • Cognitive Behavioral  Therapy
  • Drug therapy
  • Sound therapy
  • TMJ treatment
  • Tinnitus Maskers
  • Tinnitus Retraining Therapy (TRT)


You may also find information through the following organizations:

American Tinnitus Association
P.O. Box 5
Portland, OR 97207-0005

American Speech-Language-Hearing Association