Horses That Hum: Exploring Audible Tinnitus

Have you ever heard a humming noise coming from your horse’s ear?

Although rare, audible or objective tinnitus is a condition where a horse emits an audible sound from its ear, similar to what a human might hear when experiencing tinnitus.

The most common type of tinnitus is subjective tinnitus which is perceived only by the person experiencing it and can’t be heard by others. The sounds heard when a person experiences subjective tinnitus can vary widely and may include ringing, buzzing, hissing, clicking, or roaring, and can be continuous or intermittent. Fairly common, it affects about 10–15% of people, most of whom tolerate it well. In a rare few it can trigger a fight-or-flight response from their autonomic nervous system, as the brain may perceive it as dangerous.

In horses, it’s thought that subjective tinnitus may be one of the many potential causes of head-shaking.

A Marwari filly and her unusual curved ears

Objective tinnitus in horses (or humans) is a relatively rare condition and can be heard by those near the ear emitting the sound. It’s typically associated with a physical source of the sound within the body, such as blood flow turbulence or structural abnormalities in the ear and may be synchronous with the horse’s pulse (pulsatile tinnitus) or linked to muscle movements or spasms in the muscles of the inner ear or throat.

The primary symptom of audible tinnitus is the noise itself, which can vary in intensity and rhythm. Owners have described it as a whooshing, humming or pulsing sound coming from the horse’s ear. Horses with audible tinnitus might show signs of discomfort or restlessness or they may not appear to notice the unusual sound at all.

Equine Ear

If you suspect your horse has audible tinnitus, consult your veterinarian immediately, as it may indicate an underlying health issue that requires prompt attention.

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