Symptoms A-Z

Why Do My Ears Keep Ringing? 10 Tinnitus Causes & Treatments

Understand your ringing in the ears symptoms, 8 causes & treatment options for your ringing in the ears.

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Contents

  1. Symptoms
  2. Causes
  3. 8 Possible Ringing In The Ears Conditions
  4. Treatments and Relief
  5. FAQs
  6. Questions Your Doctor May Ask
  7. Statistics
  8. References

Ringing In The Ears Symptoms

Have you ever heard that ringing in the ears means someone is talking about you? While this old wives' tale is fun to think about (depending on who you think is talking about you), there's a more likely explanation for the ringing in your ears.

If you're experiencing ringing in the ears, the following symptoms could be present:

  • Unexplained noise in the ears, including ringing, buzzing, whistling, or hissing
  • Noise that is continuous or intermittent
  • Hearing sounds that no one else does

Ringing in the ears, also known as tinnitus, can begin in any of the four sections of the hearing system [1,2]. Whether yours is located in the outer ear, middle ear, inner ear, or brain, knowing the cause is the first step.

There are several types of tinnitus, all which produce different ringing in the ears symptoms and noises that include:

  • Subjective tinnitus: If you can hear a sound no one else can. It is the most common.
  • Pulsatile tinnitus: Also, common, pulsatile tinnitus produces a ringing or buzzing sound in most cases. It can also produce a clicking sound that comes and goes with your heartbeat [3].
  • Objective tinnitus: This is the rarest type of tinnitus. If you visit your doctor with this type, they may be able to hear the sounds you are when using a stethoscope.

Ringing In The Ears Causes

  • Ringing in the ears isn't a disease but rather a symptom of other conditions [4]. Therefore, it's important to monitor all cases of tinnitus to make sure it's not a symptom of something serious. Look at some of the most common causes of tinnitus to see if there's an obvious explanation for yours.

Lifestyle causes of ringing in the ears:

  • Age-related hearing loss: If an older relative can't hear you, blame it on age-related hearing loss. While this is normal with age, it does make tinnitus more common.
  • Loud noise: Concerts or work environments could be the culprit of your tinnitus. If the condition doesn't improve after several days, see your doctor.

Medications:

  • Antibiotics: Certain antibiotics can cause temporary tinnitus.
  • Aspirin and NSAIDs (non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs): Especially when taken in high doses.
  • Antimalarial drugs: Includes quinine and chloroquine.

Diseases that cause ringing in the ears:

  • Meniere's disease: Meniere's disease is caused by abnormal inner ear fluid pressure. Tinnitus can be an early sign of the disorder.

8 Possible Ringing In The Ears Conditions

The list below shows results from the use of our quiz by Buoy users who experienced ringing in the ears. This list does not constitute medical advice and may not accurately represent what you have.

Non-urgent tinnitus needing hearing tests

Tinnitus is the medical term for ringing in the ears. Tinnitus is always a symptom of another disorder and is not a disease in itself.

Tinnitus occurs when nerves within the ear are damaged by prolonged exposure to loud noise or to certain drugs. The disrupted activity in the nerves causes them to overreact and produce the sounds known as tinnitus. When nerves are damaged enough to cause tinnitus, there will also be some degree of hearing loss.

Symptoms of tinnitus include a ringing, buzzing, or high-pitched whining sound within the ears. The hearing loss may or may not be noticed by the patient.

Tinnitus is not serious in itself, but can interfere with quality of life. There are treatments that can help with the discomfort it causes.

Diagnosis is made through physical examination and hearing tests.

Treatment involves use of a hearing aid, which can better conduct normal sounds across the damaged nerves of the ear; and treating any underlying conditions, such as high blood pressure.

Rarity: Common

Top Symptoms: ringing in the ears, ear pain

Symptoms that always occur with non-urgent tinnitus needing hearing tests: ringing in the ears

Symptoms that never occur with non-urgent tinnitus needing hearing tests: heartbeat sound in the ear, ear discharge, vertigo (extreme dizziness), face weakness, ear pain

Urgency: Primary care doctor

Temporomandibular joint (tmj) dysfunction disorder

Temporomandibular Joint Dysfunction is often caused by a variety of factors, including daily habits, your teeth alignment, and even stress. It usually affects one side of the jaw, but in some people it can affect both sides. People with TMJ dysfunction will typically experience pain on one side of the face that is worse with chewing, yawning, or other movements of the jaw. With some simple changes in your daily habits and other at-home treatments, most people with TMJ dysfunction will experience relief of their symptoms within weeks.

Treatment for temporomandibular joint dysfunction usually includes avoiding eating hard foods or foods that require a lot of chewing. Good posture and relaxation techniques may help relieve tension in the muscles that connect to your temporomandibular joint. In people who clench or grind their teeth, a mouth guard worn at night (and fitted by your dentist) may also help relieve your symptoms. Pain relievers, like ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin), can also help.

Rarity: Common

Top Symptoms: dizziness, pain, restricted movement, and clicking sounds from jaw, history of headaches, jaw pain, pain in the back of the neck

Symptoms that always occur with temporomandibular joint (tmj) dysfunction disorder: pain, restricted movement, and clicking sounds from jaw

Urgency: Primary care doctor

Earwax blockage

Ear wax production is a normal process, as the body makes wax to protect the ear from infection. Sometimes ear wax can build up and cover the eardrum, which is a thin layer of skin that stretches across the end of the ear canal and picks up sound from outside. Ear wax buildup has nothing to do with poor hygiene, and it is not possible to prevent a build-up by washing.

Rarity: Uncommon

Top Symptoms: dizziness, dry cough, ear canal pain, ear fullness/pressure, ringing in the ears

Symptoms that never occur with earwax blockage: swollen ear, fever

Urgency: Phone call or in-person visit

Meniere's disease

Meniere's disease is a disorder of the inner ear that affects balance and hearing.

Meniere's disease is due to an abnormality in the inner ear that results in low levels of fluid, thus interfering with the sense of balance. The abnormality may be hereditary or it could be from allergies, autoimmune disease, or other illness.

Symptoms usually affect only one ear and include severe attacks of vertigo, or the sensation of spinning; tinnitus, or ringing in the ear; pressure inside the ear; and increasing deafness. These symptoms are unpredictable and can come and go without warning.

Meniere's disease is progressive and will not go away on its own. It can lead to a severe loss of hearing and balance, and so a medical provider should be seen at the earliest symptoms.

Diagnosis is made through patient history; physical examination; hearing tests; and balance tests.

There is no cure for Meniere's disease, but it can be treated with motion sickness and anti-nausea medicines, hearing aids, and occasionally surgery.

Rarity: Uncommon

Top Symptoms: nausea, ringing in the ears, vertigo (extreme dizziness), ear fullness/pressure, brief fainting episode

Symptoms that always occur with meniere's disease: dizziness: at least 2 episodes

Urgency: Primary care doctor

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Possible meniere's disease

Meniere's disease is a disorder of the inner ear. It can cause severe dizziness, a roaring sound in the ears called tinnitus, hearing loss that comes and goes and the feeling of ear pressure or pain. Meniere's commonly develops between the ages of 20 and 60, and most often starts in only one ear.

Rarity: Uncommon

Top Symptoms: nausea, episodic dizziness, ringing in the ears, vertigo (extreme dizziness), ear fullness/pressure

Urgency: Primary care doctor

Fibromyalgia

Fibromyalgia is a set of chronic symptoms that include ongoing fatigue, diffuse tenderness to touch, musculoskeletal pain, and usually some degree of depression.

The cause is not known. When fibromyalgia appears, it is usually after a stressful physical or emotional event such as an automobile accident or a divorce. It may include a genetic component where the person experiences normal sensation as pain.

Almost 90% of fibromyalgia sufferers are women. Anyone with rheumatic disease, such as rheumatoid arthritis or lupus, may be more prone to fibromyalgia.

Poor sleep is often a symptom, along with foggy thinking, headaches, painful menstrual periods, and increased sensitivity to heat, cold, bright lights, and loud noises.

There is no standard test for fibromyalgia. The diagnosis is usually made when the above symptoms go on for three months or more with no apparent cause.

Fibromyalgia does not go away on its own but does not get worse, either.

Rarity: Common

Top Symptoms: fatigue, arthralgias or myalgias, anxiety, depressed mood, headache

Symptoms that always occur with fibromyalgia: arthralgias or myalgias

Urgency: Primary care doctor

Depersonalization/derealization identity disorder

Depersonalization/derealization identity disorder are two types of dissociative disorders. This means the person's thoughts and feelings become disassociated – or disconnected – from reality.

Depersonalization and derealization are similar and often occur together.

Depersonalization means the person feels no connection to their own thoughts, emotions, or experiences.

Derealization means the person feels that the world around them is unreal, dreamlike, or entirely imaginary.

Anyone can have a dissociative disorder, though it is most common among adolescents who have experienced traumatic events.

Symptoms include a sense of detachment from the self, as though standing aside and watching events happen to someone else; memory loss regarding certain events; and significant depression and anxiety. The symptoms may come and go.

Dissociative disorders can severely affect a person's quality of life and ability of function normally. A medical provider should be seen for referral to the appropriate specialist.

Diagnosis is made through patient history. Tests may be done to rule out any physical condition.

Treatment involves psychotherapy and sometimes medications such as antidepressants or anxiolytics.

Rarity: Rare

Top Symptoms: depersonalization or derealization, derealization, impaired social or occupational functioning, ringing in the ears, amnesia

Symptoms that always occur with depersonalization/derealization identity disorder: depersonalization or derealization

Urgency: Primary care doctor

Paget disease of the bone

Paget disease of bone is also called PDB, osteitis deformans, or osteodystrophica deformans. It is normal for bone cells to renew themselves throughout life, but in PDB the renewal becomes disordered. New bone cells are produced too quickly, causing the bones to become weakened and overgrown.

The cause of PDB is not known. It may be due to an inherited trait combined with certain viral infections.

Symptoms include enlargement, bowing, and abnormal curving of the bones, with pain and tenderness. The skull, pelvis, spine, and upper arms and thighs are most often affected. However, many patients have no symptoms and the condition is discovered while assessing something else.

If not treated, Paget disease of bone can lead to bone deformity; fractures; osteoarthritis; and hearing loss due to changes in the small bones within the ear.

Diagnosis is made through blood tests and an x-ray or CT scan.

There is no cure, but symptoms can be managed with medication, pain relievers, physical therapy, and sometimes surgery.

Rarity: Common

Top Symptoms: new headache, pelvis pain, back pain, spontaneous bone pain, moderate hip pain

Symptoms that always occur with paget disease of the bone: spontaneous bone pain

Urgency: Primary care doctor

Ringing In The Ears Treatments and Relief

In most cases, ringing in the ears isn't a cause for concern and will resolve with time.

But there are times when visiting a doctor as soon as possible is recommended, which include:

  • Ringing in the ears that comes on suddenly and without an obvious cause
  • Ringing or buzzing accompanied by total hearing loss or dizziness

Make an appointment with your doctor at your earliest convenience if tinnitus is persistent or interfering with your quality of life.

Luckily, there are both preventative measures and treatments to try when dealing with tinnitus.

Preventative ringing in the ears measures include:

  • Wear ear protection when around loud noises
  • Keep up on routine ear screenings
  • If you smoke, quit
  • Eat healthy and exercise to improve cardiovascular health

Ready to stop the ringing?

Try these treatments at home to help stop the ringing in your ears.

  • Acupuncture: Some claim relief from tinnitus through acupuncture.
  • Gingko biloba: Gingko biloba has been suggested but controlled trials have yet to demonstrate favorable results
  • White noise: If you just want to wait out your tinnitus but find the noise irritating, try using a white noise machine to lessen the intensity of the ringing or buzzing.

The next time you hear ringing in your ears monitor the symptoms and try to determine a cause. If you have concerns about the seriousness of your tinnitus, see your doctor. Otherwise, wait for the symptoms to resolve themselves.

FAQs About Ringing In The Ears

Here are some frequently asked questions about ringing in the ears.

Can earplugs cause ringing in the ears?

Proper earplug use does not cause ringing in the ears, or "tinnitus." However, there are two etiologies of the ringing in one's ears that is associated with ear plugs. The first is an infection or impaction of the ear way. An infection or impaction of wax can cause pain, and in some cases, ringing or stimulation of the ear. The second is that when a room is silent and an individual's ears are accustomed to sound, the brain may create sounds to fill the sensory void.

Can ringing in the ears be caused by anxiety?

Recent medical literature indicates that while there is an association between anxiety disorders (such as panic disorder, generalized anxiety disorder, post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) or agoraphobia, there is no evidence that anxiety disorders cause tinnitus or ringing in the ears. At the same time, almost 1/2 of persons with anxiety disorders have some degree of tinnitus [5].

Does earwax buildup lead to ringing in the ears?

Yes, earwax buildup can cause tinnitus if the earwax buildup is large enough and also touches the eardrum, as it can stimulate the eardrum causing ear ringing when no apparent source of sound is present. This occurs because the earwax may place pressure on the eardrum which is interpreted as sound or changes the way that the eardrum vibrates.

Why does ringing in the ears sound like?

Ringing in the ears may take many forms. It is often a background noise, however, that can be loud enough to overshadow conversations or to deafen the hearer to other sounds. It may be buzzing, hissing, ringing, or grinding in quality, and it can be constant or occur only occasionally. It may also be pulsatile or non-pulsatile. The former describes a problem related to heart beats, while the latter describes a problem within the inner ear.

Why do my ears ring when I'm dizzy?

A common disease called Meniere's disease affects the inner ear and can cause severe dizziness, vomiting, and unsteadiness on the feet as well as gradual permanent hearing loss [6]. It often only affects one ear. Dizziness frequently occurs suddenly and is followed by muffled hearing. Dizziness in which an individual cannot walk and falls is often referred to as a "drop attack." Persistent dizziness should be quickly evalutated to exclude more serious problems like a stroke or brain mass.

Questions Your Doctor May Ask About Ringing In The Ears

To diagnose this condition, your doctor would likely ask the following questions:

  • Have you been experiencing dizziness?
  • Do you feel a painful, tight knot or band in your muscle anywhere on the body?
  • Have you noticed a change in your hearing?
  • Is there anything coming from your ear(s)?

The above questions are also covered by our A.I. Health Assistant.

If you've answered yes to one or more of these questions

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Ringing In The Ears Symptom Checker Statistics

People who have experienced ringing in the ears have also experienced:

  • 7% Headache
  • 4% Ear Fullness/Pressure
  • 4% Dizziness

People who have experienced ringing in the ears were most often matched with:

  • 37% Non-Urgent Tinnitus Needing Hearing Tests
  • 37% Temporomandibular Joint (Tmj) Dysfunction Disorder
  • 25% Earwax Blockage

Source: Aggregated and anonymized results from visits to the Buoy AI health assistant (check it out by clicking on “Take Quiz”).

Ringing In The Ears Symptom Checker

Take a quiz to find out why you're having ringing in the ears

References

  1. Ganz Sanchez T, Bezerra Rocha C. Diagnosis and Management of Somatosensory Tinnitus: Review Article. Clinics (Sao Paulo). 2011;66(6):1089-1094. NCBI Link.
  2. Symtpoms. American Tinnitus Association. ATA Link.
  3. Tinnitus. National Organization for Rare Disorders. Published 2017. NORD Link.
  4. Tinnitus.American Academy of Otolaryngology - Head and Neck Surgery Foundation. ENT health Link.
  5. Ziai K, Moshtaghi O, Mahboubi H, Djalilian HR. Tinnitus Patients Suffering from Anxiety and Depression: A Review. The International Tinnitus Journal. 2017;21(1):68-73. Tinnitus Journal Link.
  6. Meniere's Disease. National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders (NIDCD). Updated February 13, 2017. NIDCD Link.