Why do I keep Hearing a ticking noise?

Hearing a persistent ticking noise can be annoying and even unsettling. This rhythmic sound when there doesn’t seem to be an actual source for it leaves many wondering where on earth that tapping is coming from and how to make it stop. Let’s explore some of the most common reasons behind phantom ticking noises and what you can do to remedy the situation.

Possible Causes of Phantom Ticking Noises

There are a few possible explanations for mysteriously hearing a ticking sound with no discernible source:

  • Tinnitus – Often described as a ringing noise, tinnitus can also sound like humming, buzzing, clicking or ticking. It occurs when there’s damage to the microscopic endings of the hearing nerve in the inner ear. This condition commonly occurs with hearing loss and aging, but can also result from excessive earwax, ear infections, traumatic brain injuries, and certain medications.
  • Environmental factors – Certain appliances, electronics or mechanical objects in your surrounding environment can emit a constant ticking. Electrical devices with an internal clock, old pipes with dripping water or steam, and grandfather clocks are potential sources. The ticking might also be coming through walls or vents from a neighbor’s home.
  • Muscle spasms – Spasms occurring in muscles or nerves near your ear can sometimes cause a sensation of clicking, tapping or ticking. This might arise due to issues like temporal mandibular joint dysfunction (TMJ) or muscle twitching.
  • Pulsatile tinnitus – Also described as vascular tinnitus, this condition happens when you hear a rhythmic pulsing, swooshing or other heartbeat-like noise in your ears. The sound is often in sync with your actual heartbeat. It’s commonly caused by blood flow turbulence or blood vessel problems in the delicate structures of the ear.

When to See a Doctor

In many cases, phantom ticking noises will resolve on their own without medical treatment. However, it’s a good idea to make an appointment with your doctor if:

  • The sound persists for more than a few days
  • It occurs along with other worrisome symptoms like dizziness, headaches or hearing loss
  • It’s causing you significant distress or interrupting your sleep

Getting a medical evaluation can help pinpoint the underlying cause and rule out any serious issues. Prompt treatment may also help prevent the problem from worsening over time.

Tinnitus Treatment Options

If your doctor determines that tinnitus is behind your phantom ticking, they may recommend the following treatment approaches:


There are no FDA-approved drug treatments specifically for tinnitus, but certain medications that affect the neural pathways associated with hearing may help quiet the noise. These include antidepressants, anti-anxiety drugs, anticonvulsants, and anesthetics applied directly to the inner ear.

Sound therapy

Listening to soothing background sounds can help mask the ringing or ticking to make it less bothersome. Options include white noise machines, tabletop waterfall fountains, nature recordings, and soft music.

Tinnitus retraining therapy (TRT)

This technique uses counseling and sound therapy to help your brain learn to tune out the unwanted noise over time. The goal is to habituate your auditory system to the tinnitus so you no longer perceive it as disruptive or distressing.

Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT)

CBT focuses on changing negative thought and behavior patterns surrounding your tinnitus that may exacerbate the condition. Therapy can teach you coping strategies to better manage stress and anxiety triggered by the noises.

Alternative therapies

Some people find relief from tinnitus symptoms through complementary approaches like acupuncture, hypnosis, mindfulness meditation, yoga, and massage therapy.

Treatment for Pulsatile Tinnitus

If an underlying vascular condition is causing rhythmic whooshing or ticking sounds in your ears, possible therapies include:

  • Treating high blood pressure, atherosclerosis or other cardiovascular issues
  • Repairing malformed blood vessels through surgery
  • Removing built-up earwax blocking the ear canal
  • Changing medications that increase blood flow to the ear

Effectively managing stress levels may also minimize pulsatile tinnitus episodes, as stress can exacerbate vascular issues.

Ways to Find and Stop Environmental Ticking

For phantom ticking caused by something in your surroundings, take these steps to locate and silence the source:

  • Methodically go room by room to isolate where the sound is loudest
  • Eliminate any obvious ticking culprits like clocks and dripping faucets
  • Turn off all electronics one at a time to check if the noise stops
  • Check for ticking that travels through vents or walls from a neighbor’s home
  • Look for ticking tied to turning lights or appliances on and off
  • Inspect areas where rodents could be scratching in walls or ceiling
  • Contact a plumber to inspect pipes that could be conduits for ticking sounds

Once you identify the source, take steps to remove, repair or muffle the noise.

Coping Tips for Phantom Ticking

If you’re unable to eliminate the ticking noise itself, try these strategies to manage your reaction to it:

  • Mask the sound with soothing background noise like a fan, recordings of nature, or calming music
  • Focus your attention elsewhere by engaging in immersive activities like reading, puzzles, crafts or exercise
  • Reduce stress through relaxation techniques such as deep breathing, meditation and yoga, which can minimize tinnitus impact
  • Counseling and cognitive-behavioral therapy can help develop healthy thought patterns around the sound
  • Get adequate rest, as fatigue can worsen tinnitus symptoms
  • Avoid excessive alcohol, caffeine, and nicotine, which can aggravate tinnitus

When to Seek Medical Care

If home treatments don’t provide relief from constant ticking noises, it’s important to make an appointment with your doctor. They can examine your ears, administer hearing tests, and evaluate for underlying conditions causing the phantom sounds. Prompt medical treatment is key to managing tinnitus before it potentially worsens.

In particular, seek medical advice if the ticking is accompanied by:

  • Hearing loss or muffled hearing
  • Dizziness, vertigo, or balance issues
  • Ear pain, pressure, or fullness
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Headaches

These associated symptoms can signal a more serious problem requiring prompt medical care, such as an inner ear infection, acoustic neuroma, or Meniere’s disease.

Questions for My Doctor

When consulting with your physician about chronic ticking noises, come prepared with questions such as:

  • What’s the likely cause of this ticking sound?
  • Could it be tinnitus or some form of repetitive muscle spasms?
  • Do I need a hearing test or imaging scans of my ears/head?
  • Is there earwax blockage, fluid buildup or infection that could explain it?
  • Could a cardiovascular issue be causing pulsatile tinnitus?
  • What specialists might be needed, like an audiologist, neurologist, or ENT doctor?
  • What are my treatment options beyond just waiting it out?
  • Could certain medications or supplements help quiet the noise?
  • Would sound therapy, CBT, or relaxation techniques help manage it?

Don’t downplay the annoyance of your phantom ticking during the appointment. Be honest about how pervasive and disruptive the noise is so your doctor can fully grasp the extent of the problem.

When to Seek a Second Opinion

It’s reasonable to get a second opinion if:

  • Your doctor brushes off your concerns about constant ticking noises
  • They recommend just “learning to live with it” without further evaluation
  • Prescribed treatments aren’t providing any improvement after several months
  • The noise begins interfering more with your sleep, work, or mental health
  • You experience worrying new symptoms like dizziness, headaches, or hearing changes

Don’t give up if a doctor isn’t taking your ticking complaint seriously. Seek out a specialist like an audiologist, ENT, or neurologist for more thorough testing and treatment ideas. A fresh perspective could reveal solutions your original physician overlooked.

When to Seek Support

If tinnitus or other underlying issues causing phantom ticking take a toll on your mental health and quality of life, don’t hesitate to seek support. Consider joining a tinnitus support group, either locally or online, to exchange coping strategies. Individual or group therapy can also teach mindfulness, relaxation and cognitive-behavioral techniques to better manage stress related to chronic ticking noises.

Preventing Tinnitus

You can reduce your chances of developing tinnitus by:

  • Using hearing protection when exposed to loud noises like concerts, machinery, or firearm use
  • Keeping volume levels low when listening with earbuds and headphones
  • Getting regular hearing tests and promptly treating any infections or blockages
  • Avoiding excessive aspirin, NSAID, and quinine drug use which can damage the ears
  • Promptly treating abnormal growths or vascular conditions that put pressure on the auditory nerve pathways

While you can’t always prevent tinnitus, these precautions can help avoid making it worse or triggering new onset of noises.

Living with Tinnitus

If your ticking sounds persist despite treatment, the following strategies can help you live better with chronic tinnitus:

  • Use calming background sounds and distraction techniques to minimize your focus on the noise
  • Adopt stress-reduction practices like yoga, deep breathing, and mindfulness meditation
  • Get adequate sleep and physical activity
  • Avoid smoking and excess alcohol which can worsen tinnitus
  • Join a support group to exchange effective coping tips
  • Consider cognitive behavioral therapy to develop new attitudes and behaviors around the sounds
  • Let friends and loved ones know what helps when the ticking flares up

While phantom ticking may never fully go away, managing stress levels, sound therapies, and other lifestyle adjustments can significantly improve your quality of life.

When to Let it Go

It may be time to make peace with the phantom ticking if:

  • Medical evaluation and testing cannot identify an underlying, treatable cause
  • It’s classified as subjective, noise-induced, or age-related tinnitus with no cure
  • Prescribed remedies and sound therapies provide little relief long-term
  • The noises don’t worsen, last only short periods, and aren’t disabling

In these instances where ticking is likely permanent but mild, training your brain to tune out and accept the noises may promote better well-being. Letting go of frustration over tinnitus you can’t control frees up energy to manage it more constructively.

The Takeaway

Hearing phantom ticking with no external source can certainly be baffling and irritating. But various effective treatments are available, especially if the underlying cause is treatable. Tinnitus and other intractable cases may require coping strategies like sound therapy and cognitive retraining. With some trial and error, most people find a personalized approach that provides adequate relief from chronic ticking noises.

Don’t lose hope if that annoying ticking goes on. Work closely with your doctor to get to the bottom of it, and be open to trying combinations of medical therapies, sound masking, and focus techniques. Devising your own plan to adapt and habituate to the noises can restore your quality of life.