Have you ever experienced, or do you regularly experience, a ringing in your ears that nobody else hears?

The condition, which affects almost 50 million Americans, is known as tinnitus.

1. What is tinnitus?

According to the American Tinnitus Association (ATA), tinnitus is the perception of sound when no actual external noise is present. Although many audiologists and other hearing healthcare professionals characterize tinnitus as a “ringing in the ears,” the malady can actually manifest itself in many ways, including buzzing, hissing, whistling, swooshing or clicking.

2. Who suffers from tinnitus?

As mentioned before, nearly 50 million Americans – or about 15 percent of the general public, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control – suffer from tinnitus. In fact, it is considered one of the more common health conditions in the country.  The CDC reports that nearly half of those with tinnitus suffer from a chronic form of the condition while two million people have extreme and completely debilitating cases.

3. What causes tinnitus?

One of the reasons tinnitus is so prevalent in the population is because the condition is actually characterized as a symptom of some other issue. In fact, tinnitus is associated with myriad other health conditions, including:

  • Hearing loss, especially age-related hearing loss known as presbycusis
  • Noise-induced hearing loss
  • Obstructions in the middle ear, such as excessive earwax, head congestion, loose hair and dirt or foreign objects
  • Head or neck trauma
  • Temporomandibular joint disorder (TMJ)
  • Sinus pressure and barometric trauma
  • Traumatic brain injury
  • Ototoxic medications such as non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), some antibiotics, some cancer medications, water pills or other diuretics or quinine-based medications
  • Other diseases and medical conditions related to the metabolic and autoimmune systems, blood vessels, mental health and vestibular system.

4. What’s the cure?

Because there are so many other health conditions associated with tinnitus, pinpointing an exact cure is difficult. A cure could be as simple as changing medications or prescribing hearing aids; on the flip side, if the tinnitus is caused by other issues, the condition might be more difficult to clear up. The best way to get treatment and relief from tinnitus is to meet with an audiologist in your area.