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Health A-Z

Medical Content Created by the Faculty of the
Harvard Medical School

What Is It?

Tinnitus, commonly called ringing in the ears, is the sensation of hearing a sound in the ears when no such sound exists. This sound, which comes from inside the head, typically is described as a ringing, but it also can take the form of an annoying hiss, whistle or buzz. Tinnitus can be constant or can come and go.

Most often, tinnitus is a symptom of an ear problem, such as:

  • Earwax buildup

  • Age-related hearing loss

  • Meniere's disease

  • Inner ear damage from loud noise

  • Middle ear damage caused by a sudden change in pressure (barotrauma)

Occasionally, tinnitus is a side effect of medication. Aspirin in moderate to high doses often causes tinnitus.

Health experts estimate that more than 30 million people in the United States have some form of tinnitus.

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From Health A-Z, Harvard Health Publications. Copyright 2007 by the President and Fellows of Harvard College. All rights reserved. Written permission is required to reproduce, in any manner, in whole or in part, the material contained herein. To make a reprint request, contact Harvard Health Publications. Used with permission of StayWell.

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