Have you ever experienced an inexplicable ringing in your ears? According to the National Institute of Deafness and Other Communication Disorders (NIDCD), many Americans – 50 million, in fact – struggle with this tinnitus. Tinnitus is characterized as sounds of hearing buzzing, hissing whistling, swooshing or clicking in the ears that are completely inaudible to others.

What is tinnitus?

Tinnitus is defined as the perception of sound when no actual noise exists. The malady can be temporary or permanent.

As mentioned, tinnitus is fairly common. According to the NIDCD, about 10 percent of the U.S. population experiences it, often to a debilitating degree. The degree of severity of one’s tinnitus typically depends on the type of tinnitus a person suffers from.

Types of tinnitus

In general, audiologists agree there are two types of tinnitus: subjective and objective.

Subjective tinnitus is defined by noises in the head or ears that are only perceived by the patient. Usually, subjective tinnitus can be pinpointed to auditory or neurological reactions caused by hearing loss. However, tinnitus can be caused by many other factors, including ototoxic medication or changes in pressure, as during a flight. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, more than 99 percent of all tinnitus cases reported are subjective.

Objective tinnitus is defined by noises in the head or perceived by the ears that can also be heard by others. Objective tinnitus is rare. Usually, the noises heard by diagnosable objective tinnitus definition are caused by internal functions of the body’s circulatory and somatic systems (also known as blood flow and musculoskeletal movement).

How is tinnitus treated?

Tinnitus can be quite difficult to treat. According to the CDC, audiologists have not come up with a standardized way to treat it. However, many treatment options exist that can help reduce the burden of tinnitus, allowing individuals suffering from it to live more comfortable lives. According to the American Tinnitus Association, treatment options include:

  • Hearing aids
  • Sound therapies
  • Behavioral therapies
  • Drug therapies
  • TMJ treatments
  • Some experimental therapies.

Before reaching any form of treatment or therapy, the first step toward a more comfortable, productive life when living with tinnitus is to set an appointment with a hearing healthcare professional who will be able to help narrow down the cause of the tinnitus. From there, therapies or treatments can be established and tailored to an individual’s specific needs.