You may or may not be familiar with the word tinnitus. The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines it as: “a sensation of noise (such as a ringing or roaring) that is typically caused by a bodily condition (such as a disturbance of the auditory nerve or wax in the ear) and usually is of the subjective form which can only be heard by the one affected.” Here are a few facts about tinnitus and how it affects quality of life.

1. Tinnitus sounds vary

Tinnitus may sound like ringing, buzzing, hissing, swooshing or pulsating noise that seems to be coming from inside your ear. Only you can hear the sound, which may vary in volume. It can be constant or may come and go. Tonal tinnitus involves sounds that are nearly continuous and stay in a certain set of frequencies. Pulsatile tinnitus appears to pulsate, usually along with your heartbeat. Musical tinnitus creates the perception of singing or songs.

2. Tinnitus is not a disease

Tinnitus is a symptom, not a disease. It’s an indicator of another problem, which can stem from many factors, including: hearing loss, medication side-effects, high blood pressure, middle ear blockages, head and neck trauma or temporomandibular joint (TMJ) disorder, just to name a few. Because tinnitus is only an indicator, it’s important to see your audiologist or primary health care provider to determine the underlying cause and begin treatment.

3. Tinnitus affects many different groups

The American Tinnitus Association says more than 45 million people in the U.S. suffer from tinnitus. It occurs more often in men than women and in people older than 60. Other high-risk groups include military personnel and veterans, people who work in noisy environments and those whose hobbies include loud noises (such as snowmobiling, hunting or attending concerts).

4. Tinnitus triggers

Sometimes certain foods or drugs can bring on or exacerbate tinnitus. For many people, these items include aspirin, caffeine, alcohol and salt. Another trigger is smoking, which is a stimulant and increases blood flow.

5. Diagnosis and treatment options for tinnitus

Tinnitus is detected through several hearing exams, the general tests performed by audiologists. These include a speech recognition test, evaluation of how well volumes and frequencies are heard and checking the function of the middle ear.

There are several ways to reduce the symptoms of tinnitus but there is no cure. For many people, hearing aids assist in reducing tinnitus noise. The hearing aids increase outside sound and your ears blend that sound with the tinnitus, making it less apparent. If you do not suffer from hearing loss, there are specialized hearing aids designed to deal with tinnitus. Other treatments include relaxation techniques, lifestyle changes, sound generators or medications.

When you learn more about the cause of tinnitus it can help guide you toward the right treatment. Additionally, getting enough sleep, exercising and reducing your stress level can all help in decreasing tinnitus noise.