What Is Tinnitus and Who Has It?

the word tinnitus behind glasses

Tinnitus is the perception of sound in the absences of an external sound source. Tinnitus can take on any number of characteristics and is usually a sound that only you can hear. You can experience tinnitus that varies from soft to loud and from low to high pitch. Individuals describe their tinnitus in a number of ways, including a buzzing, clicking, ringing, white noise, and/or roaring sound. Although these descriptions are typical, there are no specific rules about how tinnitus is perceived. Each person’s experience can be different.

According to the American Tinnitus Association (ATA), over 45 million Americans struggle with tinnitus, making it one of the most common health conditions in the United States.

CDC Survey Reveals Tinnitus Affects 15% of U.S. Population

Each year, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control conducts its National Health and Nutritional Examinations Survey, a longitudinal study of the health of the American population. In the 2011-2012 Survey (the most recent year from which data are available) the CDC included several questions on tinnitus, to ascertain the full scope and severity of the condition on a population level. The survey reported:

  • 15% of all survey respondents experienced some form of tinnitus
  • 67% of people reporting tinnitus had regular symptoms for over a year
  • 26% of people reporting tinnitus had constant or near constant tinnitus
  • 30% of people reporting tinnitus classified their condition as a “moderate” to “very big” problem in their life

Extrapolating these findings to the national population suggests that nearly 20 million people are dealing with burdensome tinnitus on a regular basis; and approximately 2 million people are struggling with severe, sometimes debilitating, tinnitus.

Tinnitus Affects Specific Demographic Groups More

Tinnitus is primarily caused by environmental and behavioral factors, with noise exposure and hearing loss being the main causes of the condition. For a variety of reasons, certain demographic groups appear to be more susceptible to both acute and chronic tinnitus

The following data are derived from a 2010 analysis, Characteristics of Tinnitus among U.S. Adults, originally published in the American Journal of Medicine.

Males get tinnitus more often than females

Tinnitus may be more common in males because males are more represented in the workforce, particularly in professions such as manufacturing, construction, and military service, where noise exposure is common. Men are also more likely to participate in high hearing-risk behaviors, such as hunting and motorsports.

Tinnitus is more common in older populations

Tinnitus seems to be more common as people get older, peaking between ages 60 to 69. The increase is probably due to both age-related hearing loss and accumulative noise-induced hearing loss. It is unclear why tinnitus is reported less often in people older than 69.

Caucasians are more likely to have tinnitus

For an unknown reason, white, non-Hispanics report a higher prevalence of tinnitus than other racial and ethnic groups.

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