Synonyms: Ringing in the ears, Head noise

Medical Specialties: Family practice, Neurology, Otolaryngology

Clinical Definition

Tinnitus is perceiving ringing in the ears or other sounds (such as hissing, clicking or whooshing) that have no external cause. Sufferers hear ringing, ocean waves or a frustrating variety of other sounds sometimes referred to as “head noise.” The word tinnitus comes from Latin, originally meaning "to ring or tinkle like a bell." Nearly 200 different medications are known to cause tinnitus; there are many possible triggers. 

In Our Own Words

Tinnitus is a ringing in the ears or hearing some other sound without a source. The most common kind of tinnitus is subjective – only the person affected hears the sounds. Another type is objective tinnitus, a rare type of tinnitus in which a doctor can actually discern the source of the sounds during examination of a patients’ ears. This type may be caused by blood vessels or muscle spasms that result in perception of sound.

For some people, tinnitus may be linked to age-related hearing loss (presbycusis), loud noises, depression or injuries to the head and neck. This condition affects quality of life, leading to depression (or increased depression), fatigue, sleep disturbances and memory lapses. One curative treatment is sound therapy, used to increase the level of external sounds to decrease perception of tinnitus. 

Relevant Conditions
Common Types
  • Objective
  • Subjective
Side Effects
  • Ringing in the ears
  • Hissing, roaring or wooshing sounds
  • Other sounds not heard by others
Share this article
  • Harvard Medical School. "Medical Dictionary of Health Terms." Harvard Health Publications 2013. http://www.health.harvard.edu. Accessed Aug. 2013.
  • American Tinnitus Association. "About Tinnitus" 2013. http://www.ata.org. Accessed Aug. 2013.
  • Cleveland Clinic. "Tinnitus." Patient Resources 2013. http://my.clevelandclinic.org. Accessed Aug. 2013.
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