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Tinnitus symptoms

A variety of symptoms are described by those suffering from tinnitus, from ringing in the ears to music in the ears


Tinnitus can be described as the perception of sounds without any outside source. It may be surprising to know that mild tinnitus is a commonly experienced symptom and at least 1 in 10 people are known to be occasionally affected by tinnitus. Tinnitus in this mild form is common and almost everyone experiences occasional noises in the ears such as an odd ringing or buzzing, especially when in a quiet environment.

The symptoms of tinnitus can develop gradually over a prolonged period of time or can suddenly appear.  Some tinnitus sufferers experience noises in their ears continuously whilst others have some periods of relief. Many people have no idea why tinnitus symptoms appeared where as others can easily relate their symptoms to a specific cause.

This page describes the symptoms of tinnitus and will help you to recognise if you are experiencing tinnitus.

What are the symptoms of tinnitus?

Tinnitus sounds are described as being heard in either one ear, both ears or in the head and are typically described as:

  • Ringing
  • Buzzing
  • Whistling
  • Humming
  • Whining
  • Wooshing
  • Roaring
  • Droning
  • A musical tune or song

Some people are only affected very mildly by these noises whilst others are severely affected. The severity may depend on the individual person, the causes and their ability to block or handle these noises.

What causes the symptoms of tinnitus?

There are two main reasons why tinnitus symptoms can occur:

  1. It is a symptom of another condition such as resulting from an ear infection or from loss of hearing. Antibiotics or a properly fitted hearing aid may clear the ear infection and improve hearing respectively and in turn improve or cure the tinnitus problem.
  2. There is no underlying reason for tinnitus symptoms. The noises in the ear appeared for no logical or apparent reason. In this case it is believed that processes in both the ear and in the brain have caused the symptoms.

For more information please refer to tinnitus causes.

What affects tinnitus symptoms?

Not all people with tinnitus experience noises in their ear(s) continuously. Those with intermittent symptoms may find that certain factors exacerbate their tinnitus. The following factors have been commonly found to exacerbate tinnitus:

  • Tiredness
  • Stress
  • Depression
  • Certain medications
  • Diet

Tinnitus symptoms are rarely known to be caused by a serious problem, however those who become aware of having tinnitus should discuss their symptoms with a doctor to obtain a proper diagnosis.

The importance of a diagnosis for tinnitus

If you think have been experiencing any of the symptoms above and think you have tinnitus, it is important to make an appointment with your doctor to receive a proper diagnosis. Although tinnitus is rarely an underlying symptom of a serious disease, it is best to talk to your doctor as they may be able to help pin point the exact reason for the noises you are hearing such as listening to music that is too loud or an ear infection and be able to help you deal with and treat the cause. If your GP cannot find any contributing factors for the noise you are hearing they may refer you to a specialist doctor for some further testing. As well as considering all your symptoms, the tests may include blood tests and a hearing and balance check. Should your inner ear need further investigations, sometimes a MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) scan is given, but the extact tests and whether these are necessary will depend on your treating healthcare professional.

If you or your doctor cannot find an underlying cause for your tinnitus, although there are no medicines known that effectively cure tinnitus, there are an abundance of treatments available and actions you could take which may help to reduce or combat the tinnitus symptoms. For more information see tinnitus treatment and self help pages.

Further reading:
Tinnitus treatment
Tinnitus causes
Tinnitus self-help
Ringing in ears