Tinnitus is not usually dangerous. However, in some cases, it may be a sign of a serious underlying condition that requires treatment.

Tinnitus symptoms may vary for each person but often include a ringing or buzzing in the ears.

Non-pulsatile tinnitus is the most common type of tinnitus and usually occurs due to age-related hearing loss.

Pulsatile tinnitus causes people to hear a rhythmic whooshing or thumping sound in the ears, which may be in time to a person’s heartbeat.

Subjective tinnitus means only the affected person can hear the sounds. Objective tinnitus means a doctor may also be able to listen to the sounds with a stethoscope.

This article examines whether tinnitus can be dangerous. It also looks at the causes of tinnitus, when a person should contact a doctor, and available treatment options.

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Tinnitus is not usually dangerous or severe enough to negatively affect daily life.

In rare cases, tinnitus may indicate a serious underlying health condition that may be dangerous without treatment.

If tinnitus is severe enough to affect day-to-day life, it may negatively influence mood, sleep, or productivity, resulting in anxiety or depression.

Sometimes, tinnitus may occur due to serious conditions, which could be dangerous without treatment. These can include:

  • Head or neck trauma: An injury to the head or neck may cause damage to nerves, ear structures, or parts of the brain involved in processing sound, resulting in tinnitus.
  • Tumors: A head, neck, or brain tumor may cause tinnitus. An acoustic neuroma is a noncancerous tumor that develops on the nerve linking the inner ear and brain and can cause tinnitus.
  • Blood vessel issues: High blood pressure, hardening of the arteries, or malformations in blood vessels can affect blood flow to the ear and cause tinnitus.
  • Chronic conditions: Certain chronic health conditions may link to tinnitus, including:

If a person experiences tinnitus in one ear alongside neurologic symptoms, such as hearing loss or vertigo, it could indicate:

Other causes of tinnitus

More benign causes of tinnitus may include:

  • Exposure to loud noise: Loud music or sporting events, gunfire, and heavy machinery may all contribute to tinnitus.
  • Hearing loss: Age-related hearing loss or exposure to loud noise may lead to hearing loss, which has a strong link to tinnitus. Hearing loss does not automatically lead to tinnitus.
  • Medications: Certain medications, particularly at high doses, may cause tinnitus as a side effect.
  • Ear infection or blockage: A buildup of earwax or fluid due to an ear infection may cause tinnitus.
  • Ménière’s disease: Ménière’s disease is an inner ear disorder that may cause tinnitus, along with hearing loss and balance issues.
  • Jaw problems: Issues affecting the jaw joint may affect surrounding tissue and may cause or worsen tinnitus.

People can contact a doctor if they have tinnitus. They will perform checks to determine the underlying cause, such as checking for fluid buildup in the ear or a blockage due to earwax.

A doctor will also assess medical history that may suggest an underlying cause of tinnitus or if any medications are responsible.

People should also seek medical advice if they experience tinnitus in one ear, along with vertigo or hearing loss.

Tinnitus may resolve if the underlying condition is curable. Examples include:

  • changing medication
  • treating an ear infection
  • removing earwax
  • fixing jaw problems

However, there is currently no cure for most forms of tinnitus.

Treatment options can help minimize the effects of tinnitus to improve quality of life and ease symptoms.

There is ongoing research to develop treatments and potentially discover a cure for tinnitus.

If an ear infection, earwax buildup, or jaw problem is causing tinnitus, resolving the underlying cause may resolve tinnitus.

For other causes, treatments for tinnitus may aim to reduce symptoms and may include the following:

  • Sound therapy: This uses sounds to mask symptoms of tinnitus or may even help reverse certain changes in the brain which can cause tinnitus. Sounds therapies may include devices that generate sound, such as a smartphone or hearing devices.
  • Behavioral therapy: Cognitive behavioral therapy, counseling, and learning about tinnitus may help to reduce anxiety around tinnitus, develop positive coping strategies, and retrain responses to negative thoughts. These approaches may help improve well-being and lessen the effect of tinnitus on daily life.
  • Tinnitus retraining therapy (TRT): This combines counseling and sound therapy to help change emotional and physiological responses to tinnitus. TRT may help people regard tinnitus sounds as being neutral and adjust to hearing low level sounds in the ear.
  • Medications: If tinnitus is affecting mental health or sleep, medications such as antidepressants or antianxiety drugs may help manage symptoms.

The following are common questions about tinnitus.

What happens if a person does not receive treatment for tinnitus?

According to the American Academy of Audiology, severe tinnitus may lead to:

  • inability to concentrate
  • sleep issues
  • anxiety
  • depression
  • challenges in relationships or social connections

Treatment may help tinnitus and lead to fewer problems affecting mental health, relationships, and well-being.

Tinnitus may also be a sign of a serious, underlying medical condition that requires treatment.

Can a person live a long life with tinnitus?

The underlying cause of tinnitus may affect how long a person lives.

If severe cardiovascular disease is causing tinnitus, it may affect mortality. Other causes may have no long-term effects on a person and may not directly affect lifespan.

Is tinnitus a form of brain damage?

Tinnitus is not a form of brain damage.

Tinnitus may occur due to a head injury, which may cause brain damage in some cases.

Additionally, a head or neck injury may cause damage to parts of the brain that process sound, which can result in tinnitus.

According to a 2020 article, there is currently no clear link between tinnitus and cognitive impairment or if tinnitus can cause cognitive issues.

Tinnitus is rarely dangerous. However, in some cases, it may indicate a serious health condition.

If people have symptoms of tinnitus, they can contact a doctor to find out the underlying cause and get treatment.