Of those, 20 million identify the condition as burdensome. For another 2 million, the condition is in some manner debilitating, impacting their quality of life. 

Tinnitus has been plaguing the world for centuries, even as far back as ancient Egypt. In all that time, no cure has been found, and we're no closer to determining one overarching cause for it. But that doesn't mean we don't understand anything about the condition — or not it's treated. 

What is Tinnitus?

Often a sign of some other underlying health condition, tinnitus is defined as a persistent noise in one or both ears. It's effectively a 'glitch' in your auditory system, an issue with the auditory nerve. Unfortunately, we know very little beyond that.

We understand the circumstances in which tinnitus occurs and the health conditions and issues that frequently accompany tinnitus. But despite the fact that it has existed for centuries, we know precious little about the condition itself, such as why it manifests in some people and not others. 

The vast majority of tinnitus cases are subjective, meaning they're only audible to the sufferer. Approximately 1% of tinnitus cases are objectiveresulting from issues with the body's circulatory or musculoskeletal system. The most common causes of tinnitus include: 

  • Hearing loss
  • Ear infection
  • Sinus infection
  • Cerumen impaction
  • Blockage of the ear canal
  • Trauma to the head or neck
  • Ototoxic medication

What are the Symptoms of Tinnitus?

Tinnitus most commonly manifests as a constant ringing sound. However, it can take a multitude of other forms, including buzzing, clicking, humming, hissing, or roaring. In some cases, it may even take the form of a rhythmic rushing or pulsing sound.

Known as pulsatile tinnitus, it's frequently objective in nature.

Video: Your Pulsatile Tinnitus Questions, Answered

Is Tinnitus Dangerous?

In most cases, no. Tinnitus is itself a harmless condition, though it can in severe cases have a debilitating effect on one's mental health. Of far greater concern is the range of underlying conditions that may occur comorbidly with tinnitus. 

That isn't to say you should never be concerned if you begin showing symptoms of tinnitus. In some cases, its presence could be a sign that something is very wrong beneath the surface. As a general rule, you should visit a doctor as soon as possible if

  • Your tinnitus symptoms persist for more than a week without abating. 
  • You've noticed a discharge from your ear. This may be a sign that you're suffering from an ear infection. 
  • You're experiencing dizziness or vertigo.
  • You're nauseous. 
  • Your tinnitus is accompanied by a persistent headache. 
  • You only notice your tinnitus in one ear. This is often a sign of either Meniere's disease or a condition known as Idiopathic Sudden Sensorineural Hearing Loss. 

You should also not hesitate to make an appointment with a doctor or audiologist if you have pulsatile tinnitus. 

How Can a Hearing Aid Help With Tinnitus?

Modern hearing aids do a great deal more than mitigate the symptoms of hearing impairment. Most hearing aids you'll purchase, whether prescription or over the counter, will feature Bluetooth functionality and a companion app. In many cases, that app will have some form of manual sound therapy designed to help treat tinnitus symptoms, as the condition so frequently accompanies hearing loss.

Even if you end up with a hearing aid that doesn't specifically include sound therapy or masking, the device can still be immensely helpful. By making you more aware of environmental sound and background noise, it takes your brain's focus off the constant, irritating sound. 

If you aren't suffering from any form of hearing impairment, then a hearing aid likely isn't going to be the best option for treating your tinnitus. You might consider downloading a white noise app on your phone, purchasing a white noise machine, or simply investing in a fan, air purifier, or air conditioner. The basic idea behind these is all the same — to create persistent background noise that masks your tinnitus, making it considerably more bearable in the process.

As an added bonus, there's even some evidence to suggest that white noise can be helpful in treating symptoms of anxiety.