Ringing in the ears (tinnitus) can have many causes.
This is a noise you hear but no one else does. It is not clear where in the ear or brain it originates, or what actually causes it.
Some people have compared it to phantom limb pain. They say the noise you hear sort of replaces the hearing that was lost. This is not a perfect comparison. Some people have tinnitus without any hearing loss.
Anything that affects the hearing can cause tinnitus. This includes:
- hearing loss from ear infections
- noise exposure
- head injuries
- skull fractures
Anything that causes temporary or permanent hearing loss can lead to tinnitus.
Tinnitus can also occur from many medications. Aspirin in high doses is the most well known cause, but many prescription drugs list tinnitus as a known side effect. Less common causes are Meniere's disease (a problem with fluid balance in the inner ear) and acoustic neuroma (a non-cancerous tumor of the nerve that connects the ear to the brain).
To try to find the cause of your tinnitus, your doctor will ask about your health history and do a physical exam. You may also need an audiogram or some other tests for a complete evaluation.
More Answers from Anthony Komaroff, MD