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Types of Tinnitus

Tinnitus is the perception of noise in the ears or head that has no external source. Some people describe the noise as a high-pitched ringing, but it may also be heard as a buzzing, clicking, hissing, roaring, or rushing sound.

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Most people experience tinnitus in both ears, called bilateral tinnitus. Less commonly it develops in only one ear, called unilateral tinnitus.

Tinnitus may be a sign of injury or dysfunction of the inner ear, and is often associated with age- or noise-related permanent hearing loss. It can become a chronic condition that lasts for weeks, months, or even years.

Tinnitus can also be short lived and situational. For example, many people have had a brief period of tinnitus after hearing live music or working with loud industrial equipment. This steady “ringing in the ears” usually goes away after a few hours of quiet.

For many others, tinnitus does not have such an identifiable cause and is present all the time.

As part of a complete evaluation, NYU Langone audiologists can identify the type of tinnitus you have.

Subjective Tinnitus

Subjective tinnitus occurs if you are the only person who can hear the noise. Regardless of how loud the noise seems to you, others cannot detect it. Subjective tinnitus is the most common type of tinnitus.

Objective Tinnitus

A less common form, objective tinnitus occurs if a condition that affects mechanical structures near the ears, such as high blood pressure or muscle contractions, is the cause of the noise. It is not loud enough to be heard from a distance but is detectable using a stethoscope or sensitive microphone. Most of the time, a doctor notices objective tinnitus during an ear examination.

Pulsatile Tinnitus

Pulsatile tinnitus is a condition in which a rhythmic sound is heard in the ear, which may be related to the blood vessels near your ears. This rhythmic noise usually matches the rate of your heartbeat and may have a rushing or roaring quality.

Pulsatile tinnitus may be caused by a vascular tumor or a blood vessel disorder such as atherosclerosis, in which deposits of plaque or other substances narrow the arteries, or by idiopathic intracranial hypertension, a buildup of pressure within the skull.

Our Research and Education in Tinnitus

Learn more about our research and professional education opportunities.