Diagnosis

Your doctor will typically diagnose you with tinnitus based on your symptoms alone. But in order to treat your symptoms, your doctor will also try to identify whether your tinnitus is caused by another, underlying condition. Sometimes a cause can't be found.

To help identify the cause of your tinnitus, your doctor will likely ask you about your medical history and examine your ears, head and neck. Common tests include:

  • Hearing (audiological) exam. During the test, you'll sit in a soundproof room wearing earphones that transmit specific sounds into one ear at a time. You'll indicate when you can hear the sound, and your results will be compared with results considered normal for your age. This can help rule out or identify possible causes of tinnitus.

  • Movement. Your doctor may ask you to move your eyes, clench your jaw, or move your neck, arms and legs. If your tinnitus changes or worsens, it may help identify an underlying disorder that needs treatment.

  • Imaging tests. Depending on the suspected cause of your tinnitus, you may need imaging tests such as CT or MRI scans.

  • Lab tests. Your doctor may draw blood to check for anemia, thyroid problems, heart disease or vitamin deficiencies.

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Do your best to describe for your doctor what kind of tinnitus noises you hear. The sounds you hear can help your doctor identify a possible underlying cause.

  • Clicking. This type of sound suggests that muscle contractions in and around your ear might be the cause of your tinnitus.

  • Pulsing, rushing or humming. These sounds usually stem from blood vessel (vascular) causes, such as high blood pressure, and you may notice them when you exercise or change positions, such as when you lie down or stand up.

  • Low-pitched ringing. This type of sound may point to ear canal blockages, Meniere's disease or stiff inner ear bones (otosclerosis).

  • High-pitched ringing. This is the most commonly heard tinnitus sound. Likely causes include loud noise exposure, hearing loss or medications. Acoustic neuroma can cause continuous, high-pitched ringing in one ear.

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