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Tinnitus (TIN-ih-tus) is the perception of noise or ringing in the ears. It is the term for hearing sounds that come from inside your body, rather than from an outside source. A common problem, tinnitus affects about 1 in 5 people. Tinnitus isn't a condition itself — it's a symptom of an underlying condition, such as age-related hearing loss, ear injury or a circulatory system disorder.

Tinnitus symptoms include these types of phantom noises in your ears:

  • ringing

  • roaring

  • clicking

  • buzzing 

  • humming 

  • grinding 

  • hissing 

  • whistling


Some people may hear sounds similar to music or singing, and others hear noises that beat in time with their pulse (pulsatile tinnitus). 

The phantom noise may vary in pitch from a low roar to a high squeal, and you may hear it in one or both ears. In some cases, the sound can be so loud it can interfere with your ability to concentrate or hear actual sound. Tinnitus may be present all the time, or it may come and go.


Causes include:

  • an earwax build-up that blocks the ear 

  • a middle ear infection 

  • glue ear – a build-up of fluid in the middle ear 

  • a perforated eardrum 

  • Ménière's disease – a condition that also causes hearing loss and vertigo (a spinning sensation) 

  • otosclerosis – an inherited condition where an abnormal bone growth in the middle ear causes hearing loss 


In older people, damage to the cochlea often occurs naturally with age. In younger people, it can be caused by repeated exposure to excessive noise.

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