This guideline covers the diagnosis and management of tinnitus in adult patients.

Virtually all adults will experience tinnitus at some point in their life, this is usually self-limiting. Bilateral tinnitus is almost never associated with significant pathology.


History and Examination

  • Tinnitus persisting for more than 6 weeks
  • Conduct ear and neurological examination
  • If pulsatile listen to neck for carotid bruit

Red Flags

See 2WW guideline for guidance about suspected neurological cancers.

ENT/Audiological presentations which may include tinnitus and in which this might be relevant include, but are not limited to:

  • Unilateral sensorineural deafness with other signs or symptoms to raise suspicion of brain tumour
  • New cranial nerve palsy
  • Headache with alarm symptoms

See 2WW guidelines for guidance about suspected head and neck cancers.

Persistent unilateral tinnitus with or without vertigo, hearing loss or other symptoms may sometimes represent acoustic neuroma, and certainly warrants investigation. However, acoustic neuroma is a benign and slow-growing tumour which does not require investigation via a 2WW pathway. It is also rare: only 2% of patients with unilateral tinnitus and sensorineural hearing loss are found to have an acoustic neuroma on MRI.


Tinnitus with hearing loss
Bilateral tinnitus without hearing loss


  • Review 6 weeks by GP if no better consider referral to audiology
  • Address co-morbidities e.g. depression, stress and anxiety
Further information


Referral Criteria

Routine referral to audiology:

Troublesome or intrusive Tinnitus for more than 6 weeks with significant impact on QoL despite adequate self-treatment

Urgent referral to ENT:
  • Pulsatile tinnitus in absence of cardiovascular cause
  • Tinnitus co-existent ear pain, discharge or abnormal exam findings
  • Tinnitus with co-existent neurological symptoms such as vertigo or facial palsy
  • Persistent unilateral tinnitus

Referral Instructions

Audiology referrals should be sent via e-Referrals
  • Speciality: Diagnostic Physiological Measurement
  • Clinic type: Audiology – Hearing Asses/ Reassess
  • Service- DRSS Northern – ENT – New Devon CCG – 99p]
ENT referrals should be sent via e-Referrals
  • Speciality: ENT
  • Clinic type: Tinnitus
  • Service- DRSS Northern – ENT – New Devon CCG – 99p

Supporting Information

Patient Information


Update on the management of tinnitus - BTA

Pathway Group

This guideline has been signed off by the Northern Locality on behalf of NEW Devon CCG.

Publication date: November 2017


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