Imaging of tinnitus: a review

Radiology. 2000 Aug;216(2):342-9. doi: 10.1148/radiology.216.2.r00au45342.


Tinnitus, a buzzing or ringing in the ear, may be pulsatile or continuous (nonpulsatile). The distinction, with a detailed clinical evaluation, determines the most appropriate imaging study. Pulsatile tinnitus suggests a vascular neoplasm, vascular anomaly, or vascular malformation. Most of the neoplasms are glomus tympanicum and glomus jugulare tumors. Vascular anomalies may cause pulsatile tinnitus, but the mechanism is unknown, and another (treatable) cause should be sought. Most neoplasms and anomalies are best seen on bone algorithm computed tomographic (CT) studies. Dural vascular malformations are often elusive on all cross-sectional imaging studies; conventional angiography may be necessary to make this diagnosis. Flow-sensitive magnetic resonance (MR) images show vascular loops compressing the eighth cranial nerve. Carotid dissections, aneurysms, atherosclerosis, and fibromuscular dysplasia can be identified on both MR imaging or MR angiographic studies and CT or CT angiographic studies. Otosclerosis and Paget disease are CT diagnoses. Benign intracranial hypertension often has no abnormal imaging findings. For patients with nonpulsatile tinnitus, MR imaging is the study of choice to exclude a vestibular schwannoma or other neoplasm of the cerebellopontine angle cistern. Multiple sclerosis and a Chiari I malformation are rare causes of pulsatile tinnitus, also best seen on MR studies. Many patients with tinnitus have no abnormal imaging findings.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Algorithms
  • Angiography
  • Arnold-Chiari Malformation / diagnosis
  • Blood Vessels / abnormalities
  • Diagnostic Imaging*
  • Dura Mater / blood supply
  • Ear Neoplasms / diagnosis
  • Glomus Jugulare Tumor / diagnosis
  • Glomus Tumor / diagnosis
  • Humans
  • Magnetic Resonance Angiography
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging
  • Multiple Sclerosis / diagnosis
  • Pulsatile Flow
  • Tinnitus / classification
  • Tinnitus / diagnosis*
  • Tomography, X-Ray Computed / methods
  • Vascular Diseases / diagnosis
  • Vascular Neoplasms / diagnosis