Buzzing in Ears

Medically Reviewed By William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS
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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 nuisance to a symptom of a medical emergency that should be evaluated immediately.

Tinnitus has no known direct cause, but it can be symptomatic of ear infections, foreign objects in the ear, earwax buildup, allergies, high blood pressure, anemia, or a condition known as Meniere’s disease (swelling in part of the inner ear canal, causing dizziness and hearing loss). Alcohol, caffeine, and certain drugs are also contributing factors in some cases of tinnitus.

Seek immediate medical care (call 911) if the buzzing in your ear begins after a head injury, or if it is accompanied by such symptoms as nausea with or without vomiting, and dizziness or vertigo.

Seek prompt medical care if you have buzzing in your ear that is persistent, recurrent, or causes you concern.

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 misinterpreting nerve signals as sound.

Symptoms that may accompany tinnitus

Conditions that cause tinnitus may be accompanied by other symptoms including:

  • Discharge or drainage from the ear
  • Dizziness or vertigo
  • Ear pain or fullness
  • Fever
  • Headache
  • Malaise or lethargy
  • Redness, warmth or swelling

Serious symptoms that might indicate a life-threatening condition

In some cases, buzzing in the ears can indicate a life-threatening condition, especially if it occurs following a head injury. Seek immediate medical care (call 911) if you, or someone you are with, have any of these life-threatening symptoms including:

  • Confusion or loss of consciousness for even a brief moment
  • Dizziness or vertigo
  • Memory loss
  • Nausea with or without vomiting
  • Severe bleeding
  • Severe headache

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

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Medical Reviewer: William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS
Last Review Date: 2021 Jan 10
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THIS TOOL DOES NOT PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. It is intended for informational purposes only. It is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Never ignore professional medical advice in seeking treatment because of something you have read on the site. If you think you may have a medical emergency, immediately call your doctor or dial 911.
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