What causes buzzing in ears?

The ear canal is lined with tiny hairs that sense movement and vibration conveyed to the brain as sound. Tinnitus occurs when these cells in your ear that respond to sound waves malfunction and transmit electrical impulses that your brain misinterprets as sound.

Buzzing in the ears can be idiopathic, which means that it has no known cause. Alternatively, it may result from various causes, including underlying ear infections, medications, foreign objects in the ear, allergies, high blood pressure, anemia, or Meniere’s disease (swelling in part of the inner ear canal, causing dizziness and hearing loss).

Common causes of buzzing in ears

Buzzing in the ears may result from a number of causes including:

  • Acoustic neuroma (benign tumor of the vestibulocochlear nerve)
  • Blood vessel disorders
  • Ear infections
  • Ear wax buildup
  • Eustachian tube obstruction
  • Exposure to loud noises
  • Hearing aids
  • Meniere’s disease (swelling in part of the inner ear canal, causing dizziness and hearing loss)
  • Otosclerosis (hardening of the bones in the ear)
  • Stress
  • Temporomandibular joint (TMJ) pain
  • Thyroid disease
  • Trauma

Medications that can cause buzzing in ears

Certain drugs may lead to buzzing in the ears as a side effect including:

  • Antibiotics
  • Antidepressants
  • Antimalaria drugs
  • Aspirin (high doses)
  • Cancer medications

Serious or life-threatening causes of buzzing in ears

In rare cases, buzzing in the ears may be caused by serious or potentially life-threatening conditions including:

  • Brain tumor
  • Head injury

Questions for diagnosing the cause of buzzing in the ears

To diagnose your condition, your doctor or licensed health care practitioner will ask you several questions related to the buzzing in your ears including:

  • When did the buzzing start? How long have you had it?
  • Do you hear the buzzing in one or both ears?
  • Have you recently flown in an airplane, gone scuba diving, or done anything else that exposed you to sudden pressure changes?
  • Have you been exposed to loud noises, such as music, fireworks, or construction work?
  • Do you have any other symptoms?
  • What medications are you taking?

What are the potential complications of buzzing in ears?

Left untreated, buzzing in the ears can interfere with and potentially diminish your quality of life. The buzzing noise can disrupt sleep and work and cause you undue stress, anxiety and depression. In addition, buzzing in the ears may be a symptom of a serious condition, such as a head injury or a brain tumor, which may lead to serious, even life-threatening complications. Once the underlying cause of the buzzing is diagnosed, it is important to follow the treatment plan that you and your health care provider design specifically for you. Complications of untreated buzzing in the ears or its underlying causes, such as head trauma or blood vessel diseases, include:

  • Brain damage
  • Difficulty performing daily tasks
  • Difficulty sleeping
  • Mood changes, such as anxiety, depression and stress
  • Spread of cancer
  • Spread of infection

References:

  1. Tinnitus. Medline Plus, a service of the National Library of Medicine National Institutes of Health. http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/ency/article/003043.htm.
  2. Tinnitus. FamilyDoctor.org. http://familydoctor.org/familydoctor/en/diseases-conditions/tinnitus.html.
  3. Collins RD. Differential Diagnosis in Primary Care, 5th ed. Philadelphia: Lippincott, Williams & Williams, 2012.
  4. Domino FJ (Ed.) Five Minute Clinical Consult. Philadelphia: Lippincott Williams & Wilkins, 2013.
INTRODUCTION

What is buzzing in ears?

The sound of buzzing or ringing in your ears in the absence of audible noise can be annoying. The symptom caused by a medical condition called tinnitus, which produces a sound that may resemble ringing, buzzing, clicking, hissing, clanging or wheezing. They can be present in one or both ears, constant or intermittent. It is a common condition that can range in severity from being a nuisanc... Read more about buzzing in earsintroduction

SYMPTOMS

What other symptoms might occur with buzzing in ears?

Symptoms related to buzzing in the ears, attributed to a medical condition called tinnitus, may also include the sounds of ringing, clicking, hissing, clanging or wheezing. The volume may be very low or high, and the sound may occur in one or both ears. You may be barely aware of the buzzing in your ear, or it may distract you from your daily routines. Tinnitus results from the brain’s misinter... Read more about buzzing in earssymptoms

Medical Reviewer: William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS Last Annual Review Date: Aug 9, 2013 Copyright: © Copyright 2014 Health Grades, Inc. All rights reserved. May not be reproduced or reprinted without permission from Health Grades, Inc. Use of this information is governed by the HealthGrades User Agreement.

This Article is Filed Under: Ear, Nose and Throat


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