You can visit a doctor to help diagnose tinnitus in your ears to determine if there’s a structural cause. Early diagnosis can help you find treatments that can reduce symptoms so you can live with tinnitus.

Millions of people in the United States live with tinnitus. It’s an audiological and neurological condition that causes a ringing, buzzing, hissing, or clicking sound in your ears when there’s actually no noise.

As tinnitus can range in severity and has the potential to interfere with everyday life, it’s important to know the symptoms and how you can get tested and diagnosed with this condition.

The American Tinnitus Association estimates that more than 25 million American adults live with tinnitus. Approximately 20 million people have tinnitus that significantly interferes with everyday life, and 2 million people have extreme cases of the condition.

There’s no specific test to diagnose tinnitus.

Instead, your ears will be examined by an ear, nose, and throat (ENT) doctor. That healthcare professional will ask you questions about what you’re hearing. You might also see an audiologist, who can check your hearing.

The ENT may do a tympanogram, which is a painless test that measures the stiffness and functioning of the eardrum. They might also decide to order various tests to help them further evaluate the tinnitus and help in diagnosis.

Along with an exam and a thorough medical history and symptom evaluation, your doctor may also order imaging tests.

This is typically done when you hear sounds that pulsate, usually in time with your heartbeat. This is also called objective tinnitus and usually has a specific cause and is able to be treated.

The tests ordered can help providers see whether there’s a structural problem or another medical condition causing the tinnitus and may include:

Other conditions that can cause tinnitus will be ruled out, including:

Symptoms can be different among each person living with the condition.

The sounds may be heard in one ear, both ears, or in your head, and can be loud or soft, and low or high-pitched. You might hear it constantly, or it can come and go.

The noise might sound like:

  • ringing
  • buzzing
  • hissing
  • squealing
  • whistling
  • humming
  • clicking

Some people might find their symptoms worsen with movement of their head, neck, or eyes, or the quality of the sound might change. That kind of tinnitus is called somatosensory tinnitus.

Additionally, newer research has shown that COVID-19 has exacerbated the rate of tinnitus and can make symptoms more intense. One 2020 review said, “Tinnitus may be more bothersome for those experiencing loneliness, having fewer social interactions, and who are more anxious or worried.”

While there are various online “assessments” of questions you can ask yourself about what you’re hearing, there’s no home test for tinnitus.

If you think you’re experiencing tinnitus, it’s best to see your primary doctor, who can do a basic examination and refer you to a specialist for further evaluation if necessary.

People aren’t generally screened for tinnitus regularly.

But if you’re hearing any noises that other people cannot hear, or notice any changes in your hearing, consult your doctor about further testing.

If you’re regularly exposed to very loud or hazardous noises (construction work, mining, loud music, annual hearing screenings are recommended.

Those with generally healthy ears, no regular exposure to loud or hazardous noise, and no changes in hearing should get checked every 3 years.

If you notice any new noises that you’re hearing, let your healthcare team know as soon as possible.

Tinnitus is a condition that at best can be annoying, and at worst, can be completely debilitating, with a wide range of experiences in between.

Treatments available that can help you live with tinnitus. If there’s a structural cause for the condition, early diagnosis can help address that as soon as possible.

Tinnitus can be stressful and interfere with everyday life, so early diagnosis can help provide you with coping tools and ways to minimize the interference in your life.

If you’ve noticed any changes in your hearing, talk with your healthcare professional as soon as possible.