Comprehensive Tinnitus Guide: Causes, Symptoms, Treatments, and More
October 26, 2020

Looking to learn more about tinnitus? You’ve come to the right place. We put together a comprehensive resource on tinnitus, covering everything we could, including types, causes, symptoms, treatments and more. Read on to learn everything there is to know about tinnitus! 


Comprehensive Guide to Tinnitus

Diagram showing the inner ear and tinnitus

Our tinnitus guide compiles all of the most important things to know about tinnitus in one place. Click the links below to skip to any section or read on to learn everything you need to know about tinnitus. 

What is Tinnitus?

Tinnitus is a condition that causes noise or ringing in the ears. Tinnitus is a common condition for those living with hearing loss, leading people to hear a ringing noise when there is no additional sound present.

Tinnitus comes in varying levels of severity. Tinnitus can be a frustrating problem to deal with, but it generally doesn’t signal anything dangerous regarding your hearing. It’s a very common side effect of hearing loss and general hearing damage. 

Causes of Tinnitus

Diagram showing brain waves indicating different causes of tinnitus

Tinnitus can be caused by a variety of factors. Generally, tinnitus is caused by the same things that cause hearing loss. These factors may include: 

    Age-Related Hearing Loss (Presbycusis)

    Aging is the most common cause of hearing loss, and age-related hearing loss commonly causes tinnitus symptoms. 

    Noise exposure

    Tinnitus can be caused by both short term and long term exposure to loud noise, with long term exposure being more likely to have permanent effects. Damaging sound can be from headphones, concerts, exposure to loud equipment or machinery, weapons, and more. 


    Your genetic makeup can have an impact on the anatomy of your ear. Some people with otosclerosis, an abnormality in the development of the middle ear, may experience tinnitus.

    Earwax Buildup (Impacted Cerumen)

    Earwax is good for you, but only in the right amounts. Earwax’s job is to protect your ear from dirt and other contaminants, but when too much earwax builds up, the ear canal may become irritated or damaged, causing tinnitus in some people. 

    Meniere’s Disease

    Meniere’s Disease is a condition caused by fluid buildup in the ear canal that can cause vertigo, hearing loss, and other problems. 

    Injury to Head or Neck

    Acute injury to the head or neck can damage the ear, ear canal, nerves, or other components in the brain that are vital to hearing. This damage can lead to hearing loss or tinnitus in some cases. 

    Types of Tinnitus

    Diagram illustrating different types of tinnitus

    There are two primary types of tinnitus: subjective and objective. Subjective tinnitus describes whether the individual is perceiving sounds when actual sound inputs are not present, while objective tinnitus describes an actual sound being created via the inner ear. 

    Subjective Tinnitus

    Subjective tinnitus happens when you perceive sounds that are not actually present. This is the most common type of tinnitus by far. Subjective tinnitus is typically caused by nerve damage or by abnormalities to the inner, middle or outer ear. 

    Objective Tinnitus

    Objective tinnitus describes when an actual noise is being produced in the ear. This type of tinnitus is fairly rare. Objective tinnitus can be caused by otologic problems such as hearing loss, Meniere's Disease or otosclerosis. It can also be caused by neurological conditions, infectious diseases and more.

    There are several other types of tinnitus that are generally characterized based on the cause of the tinnitus or the specific nature of the tinnitus. Here are a few of them:

    Neurological Tinnitus

    Neurological tinnitus is tinnitus caused by problems relating to the brain and its ability to communicate through auditory pathways. Neurological causes of tinnitus may include head injury or trauma, multiple sclerosis, tumors and more.

    Somatic Tinnitus

    Somatic tinnitus is a type of subjective tinnitus and is related to the body. People with somatic tinnitus may experience symptoms after physical pressures such as "clenching the jaw, turning the eyes, or applying pressure to the head and neck" according to the National Institute of Health

    Musical Tinnitus

    Can also be known as Musical Ear Syndrome. People with musical tinnitus experience sounds that seem to be a musical melody or tune in a loop, and can vary significantly from person to person. This type of tinnitus is fairly uncommon.

    Pulsatile Tinnitus

    Pulsatile tinnitus is a type of tinnitus that causes people to perceive rhythmic pulsing sounds, often in line with the beat of their own heart. This is caused by the circulation of blood -- you pick up on the sound of the blood circulating in your ears. 

    Low-Frequency Tinnitus

    Low-frequency tinnitus is a type of tinnitus that causes people to experience recurring sounds at low frequencies, such as a deep humming or buzzing.  

    Symptoms of Tinnitus

    Diagram showing the inner ear

    The symptoms of tinnitus are generally just noises that you hear in your ears that aren’t actually happening in real life. The noise can be permanent, or may be variable, depending on severity. Tinnitus symptoms may be perceived as:

    • Ringing
    • Drumming or beating (heartbeat sound)
    • Clicking
    • Humming

    For most, tinnitus symptoms are manageable and can be fleeting. Some with permanent and severe tinnitus are impacted daily and may need more advanced treatment options. It’s important to assess your symptoms of tinnitus and get treated so you can prevent problems from worsening and improve your everyday quality of life. 

    Treatments of Tinnitus

    Simple image showing sound waves

    Treatments of tinnitus can range from the use of hearing aids to surgery, depending on severity. Depending on the cause of the tinnitus, there may be things you can do to directly address the problem. For others, they have to rely on coping and mitigation strategies that make tinnitus less of a burden to deal with. Here are a few treatments:

    Cleaning Earwax Buildup

    Sometimes, significant ear wax build up can damage your ear canal and cause obstructions that lead to hearing loss or tinnitus. It’s good to try cleaning your ear canal to see if that will improve your tinnitus.

    Medications for Tinnitus

    There are some medications that can be used to help treat tinnitus, although they are generally used for more severe cases. These medications used to treat severe cases of tinnitus are called tricyclic antidepressants but they can have difficult side effects. Another medication option is Xanax, which is commonly used to relieve symptoms of anxiety, but Xanax has its own slate of side effects and isn't generally good to use regularly. Talk to a doctor before trying any medications to treat tinnitus. 


    Depending on the person and the cause of tinnitus, surgery may be a viable option to treat tinnitus. 

    White Noise Devices

    There are both console and portable white noises devices out there that can produce a steady background noise that drowns out the ringing effect from tinnitus. Console white noise machines can play in the bedroom to help you sleep at night, similarly to the sound of the air conditioner, the fan, or any other constant noise in your environment.

    Hearing Aids

    Hearing aids can be a treatment for tinnitus. People with severe tinnitus will likely need a more advanced device with digital feedback reduction capabilities. For more mild to moderate cases of tinnitus, we have customers report improvements in symptoms just from using our analog rechargeable hearing aids.

    Frequently asked questions 

    Frequently asked questions

    What is tinnitus?

    Tinnitus is noise or ringing in the ear related to hearing loss. Tinnitus usually implies the perception of ringing that isn’t really there. 

    What causes tinnitus?

    Tinnitus can be caused by aging-related hearing loss, exposure to loud noise, genetics, and certain medical conditions. 

    Should I see a doctor if I think I have tinnitus?

    Yes. If you think you have tinnitus, it’s good to get checked out to get a better picture of the severity and potentially identify the underlying causes. Just keep in mind that doctor prescribed solutions may be expensive; for those on a budget, ask your doctor for a diagnosis but find a cost effective solution based on what you learn.

    What treatment options are available?

    Treatments for tinnitus include cleaning earwax buildup, medication, surgery, white noise devices and hearing aids.


    Tinnitus is a complicated subject that comes in a wide variety of forms, but regardless of your type of hearing loss or degree of hearing loss, you should probably get a hearing test done. By finding out what kind of hearing loss you have, you can find the best product to fit your unique needs. For many with mild to moderately severe hearing loss, we think our rechargeable hearing aids are a great option to try out that doesn’t break the bank. Do your research, and if you want to give us a try, you’re just a few clicks away from a new pair of hearing aids and tinnitus relief!

    Susan Wright

    Senior Editor, Audien Hearing

    Profile photo for Drew Sutton

    Drew Sutton M.D.

    Drew Sutton, MD is a board-certified otolaryngologist. He has extensive experience and training in sinus and respiratory diseases, ear and skull base surgery, and pulmonary disorders. He has served as a Clinical Instructor at Grady Hospital Emory University for more than 12 years.

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