About Tinnitus

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New to tinnitus? This video, developed by the National Center for Rehabilitative Auditory Research at Portland VA Medical Center, can help you understand and offers helpful tips for managing the condition.

CAUTION: the first portion of this video contains loud tinnitus sounds from the YouTube hit PSA by Jose Zambrano Cassella, "Tinnitus Can You Hear That?". Turn the volume on your speakers/headphones down for the first 30 seconds.

Video developed by the National Center for Rehabilitative Auditory Research (NCRAR) at
Portland VA Medical Center; funded by the Joint Incentive Fund (JIF)

What is Tinnitus?

Put simply, tinnitus is the perception of sound in the ears or head where no external source is present. Some call it "ringing in the ears" or "head noise."

You may be new to the experience of tinnitus, or you may have been suffering with it for a long time. Perhaps you know someone with the problem. For all of you, we have plenty of information that will help you understand and cope with this bedeviling condition that affects 1 in 5 people.

There are two types of tinnitus: Subjective tinnitus are sounds only you can hear. This is the most common type of tinnitus. Objective tinnitus are head or ear noises audible to other people as well as the patient. These sounds can be recorded using a sensitive microphone.

Pronouncing the Problem

TINNITUS is pronounced either ti-NIGHT-us or TIN-i-tus. Both pronunciations are correct; the American Tinnitus Association uses ti-NIGHT-us. The word is of Latin origin, meaning "to ring or tinkle like a bell."

Causes of Tinnitus

The exact physiological cause or causes of tinnitus are not known. There are, however, several likely sources, all of which are known to trigger or worsen tinnitus.

  • Noise exposure - Exposure to loud noises can damage and even destroy hair cells, called cilia, in the inner ear. Once damaged, these hair cells cannot be renewed or replaced.
  • Head and neck trauma - Physical trauma to the head and neck can induce tinnitus. Other symptoms include headaches, vertigo, and memory loss.
  • Certain disorders, such as hypo- or hyperthyroidism, Lyme disease, fibromyalgia, and thoracic outlet syndrome, can have tinnitus as a symptom. When tinnitus is a symptom of another disorder, treating the disorder can help alleviate the tinnitus.
  • Certain types of tumors
  • Wax build-up
  • Jaw misalignment
  • Cardiovascular disease
  • Ototoxicity - Some medications are ototoxic, that is, the medications are toxic to the ear. Other medications will produce tinnitus as a side effect without damaging the inner ear. Effects, which can depend on the dosage of the medication, can be temporary or permanent. Before taking any medication, make sure that your prescribing physician is aware of your tinnitus, and discuss alternative medications that may be available. There are some websites that provide information on drug interactions. 
  • Pulsatile tinnitus - Rare type of tinnitus that sounds like a rhythmic pulsing in the ear, typically in time with one's heartbeat. This kind of tinnitus can be caused by abnormal blood flow in arteries or veins close to the inner ear, brain tumors or irregularities in brain structure.

Experience, Play and Download Sounds of Tinnitus 

In almost all cases, tinnitus is a subjective noise, meaning that only the person who has tinnitus can hear it. People describe hearing different sounds: ringing, hissing, static, crickets, screeching, whooshing, roaring, pulsing, ocean waves, buzzing, dial tones, even music. Visit ATA's sounds of tinnitus page to hear the most common sounds of tinnitus.

Protect Yourself from Tinnitus

Read about the risks of loud noise and how you can avoid damage to your ears. Read more about how Life Can Be Loud - Remember Your Hearing Protection and how to properly insert and wear earplugs. 

Information for Tinnitus Patients

We believe that understanding your condition will help you know your options, learn new coping skills and feel more positive about your future. 

Musicians and Music Lovers

Music is both magical and menacing. For many people, loud music causes tinnitus. Most at risk are music lovers who enjoy the volume cranked up on their MP3 players, home or car stereo systems or CD players.

If you play or listen to music, you are risk.

Many world-renowned musicians including Pete Townsend, Eric Clapton, Phil Collins, Al Di Meola, Liberty DeVitto and many others have become very public about their tinnitus in recent years. But tinnitus does not have to stop your music career. In ATA's June 2007 issue of Tinnitus Today Al Di Meola and Liberty DeVitto discuss their personal struggles with tinnitus and how Noise Induced Hearing Loss (NIHL) has affected their lives and careers.

Visit ATA's music page for tips and news for music fans and musicians, tinnitus mentioned in songs, a list of musicians who experience tinnitus and resources and links to help you.

Information for Professionals

We used to think that tinnitus was something patients had to "get used to." We now know that there is much more to understand and do about this problem. With exciting research, and resources like ATA, you can help your patients improve the quality of their lives by helping them manage their tinnitus. Read our information for professionals. Also, take a look at our new Professional Membership Program. Its expansive benefits will educate you and assist you in caring for those suffering with tinnitus. 


Feel like only you have tinnitus? Want to get in touch with others who are struggling and understand?

Take a look at our expansive resources section for additional information that can help you.

Join ATA's Mailing List

Fill out this convenient online form to sign up for ATA's mailing list. Receive ATA's introductory brochure on tinnitus and get periodic updates by email.