Tinnitus Symptoms

The important thing is seeking help as soon as you notice the symptoms. The earlier you can have an underlying cause treated, the less likely it will wind up a permanent issue. Here are all of the signs and symptoms of tinnitus you should know.


Tinnitus is a common hearing condition that an estimated 37% of adults experience in a given year, according to Stats Canada. Sometimes it is a permanent issue that cannot be cured, but it can also be temporary. If tinnitus is caused by permanent hearing loss, the tinnitus is more likely to be permanent as well, but if it is caused by temporary conditions, it may go away once the cause is treated.


When you develop tinnitus, it is very likely you will first notice ringing, buzzing or similar sounds in your ear. If you have other physical symptoms, such as blocked ears or dizziness, you may notice these before the ringing starts.

What Does Tinnitus Sound Like?

The most obvious symptom of tinnitus is the sound you hear in your ears. These sounds are not coming from any external source — if someone else stands right next to you, they would hear nothing. That’s because the sound is being generated from inside your ears or brain. 


The noise you hear in your ears when you have tinnitus may include the following:


  • Ringing
  • Buzzing
  • Hissing
  • Whistling
  • Clicking


If you are not sure that what you are hearing is tinnitus, the American Tinnitus Association has a sound sample. If you listen to it with some headphones and it sounds very similar to what you hear, there is a very good chance you have tinnitus. 


With tinnitus, the severity of the noise can vary. You can hear it one ear or in both ears. The volume can be very subtle so you barely notice it, but it can also be so loud you can’t focus on hearing anything else. The pitch of the noise may vary from a low roar to a high-pitched screech. 

Different Types of Tinnitus

You may have what is called pulsatile tinnitus. It is characterized by a more rhythmic sound in your ear, usually in sync with your heartbeat. It is more rare than the kinds of tinnitus where the sound is constant. The sound you hear with pulsatile tinnitus tends to be more of a throbbing, thumping or rushing noise.


Another type of tinnitus is called Musical Tinnitus. It is also known as Musical Hallucinations or Musical Ear Syndrome. Instead of a nondescript sound, you actually hear music or singing in your ear. Like tinnitus, there is no actual music or singing and no one else would be able to hear it. It is a more severe form of tinnitus that can happen in people who have had regular tinnitus for a long period of time.


You can read more in our guide to the different types of tinnitus.

When Do You Need A Tinnitus Evaluation?

As soon as you notice you are presenting tinnitus symptoms, you should schedule an appointment with a hearing healthcare professional. The sooner you can have an underlying condition treated, the more likely the tinnitus will be temporary. 


This is especially true if you have symptoms like dizziness or vertigo associated with your tinnitus. These are more serious signs that you should immediately seek medical help. Dizziness along with hearing loss and tinnitus could be a sign that you have an underlying health concern. In that case, it is important to get tested and the underlying condition treated as soon as possible.

How Is Tinnitus Evaluated?

Because tinnitus involves a sound that only you can hear, there is no single test that can scientifically test for it. All tests that can help diagnose tinnitus involve a subjective response from the person being tested. Here are the kinds of tests that you may be asked to perform with a hearing healthcare professional to get a tinnitus diagnosis.


  • Questionnaires, where you are asked a series of questions about your condition, history, and nature of your symptoms.
  • Standard hearing assessment, because tinnitus can be associated with hearing loss.
  • Physical examination of your ears, to look for blockages or physical trauma that are affecting your ears.
  • Movement tests, such as your eyes, jaw, neck and other parts to see if your symptoms change.
  • Pitch match test, which plays different pitches of sound to try and match the sound you hear in your ears.


A tinnitus questionnaire with screening questions usually comes first. It helps the hearing care professional conducting the evaluation to get a better idea of the nature of your possible tinnitus. They will use the answers to give you certain tests that make the most sense for your treatment. 

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