Who Has Tinnitus?

doctor with hand out & "Tinnitus" in a headline

With more than 45 million Americans struggling with tinnitus, it’s one of the most common health conditions in the United States, according to the American Tinnitus Association (ATA).

In fact, when the U.S. Centers for Disease Control conducted its last National Health and Nutritional Examinations Survey, the CDC included several questions on tinnitus to determine the full scope and severity of the condition on the population. The survey found:

  • 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.

After analyzing these findings, they suggest 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.

Most often, tinnitus is caused by environmental and behavioral factors, with noise exposure and hearing loss being the main causes. Though there are very few known genetic-based catalysts for tinnitus, certain demographic groups may be more susceptible to both acute and chronic tinnitus.

The following data is derived from Shargorodsky, Curhan, and Farwell’s 2010 analysis, Characteristics of Tinnitus among U.S. Adults, originally published in the American Journal of Medicine.

  • Males are more likely to have tinnitus—This may be because males are more likely to work in loud professions such as manufacturing, construction, and military service. Men are also more likely to participate in behaviors that post a high risk to their hearing, such as hunting and motorsports.
  • Older adults have more tinnitus—The prevalence of tinnitus grows as people get older, peaking for people in the 60 to 69-year-old age group. The increase is probably due to both age-related hearing loss and accumulative noise-induced hearing loss. It’s not understood why tinnitus seems to decrease in people over 69.
  • Caucasians are more likely to have tinnitus—No one knows why, but white, non-Hispanics report a higher prevalence of tinnitus than other racial and ethnic groups.

High-Risk Groups—Anyone can have tinnitus, but some groups are more susceptible to the condition.  These include:

  • Senior citizens—Roughly 30% of seniors experience tinnitus.
  • Active military personnel and veterans—These individuals are exposed to gunfire, explosives and loud machinery, which can cause noise-induced hearing loss and eventually tinnitus. In fact, tinnitus is the leading service-related disability with 9.7% of all vets receiving disability compensation for it in 2012.
  • People employed in loud workplace environments—Workers in fields such as agriculture, mining, construction, manufacturing and transportation are at risk for tinnitus because of their loud work environments.
  • Musicians and music lovers—Playing loud music puts these individuals at increased risk for tinnitus. Even people who just enjoy listening to loud music may be putting their hearing at risk and could develop tinnitus.
  • Motorsports and hunters—Being near loud engines in motorcycles or ATVs, or near the sound of gunshot blasts, can put the individual at increased risk for the development of tinnitus.
  • Behavioral health issues—Individuals with a history of mental health issues may be more prone to tinnitus.

All audiologists with Associated Audiologists can help patients with tinnitus. In unique or special cases, our tinnitus specialist, Susan Smittkamp, Au.D., Ph.D., C.C.C.-A.,Tinnitus and Sound Sensitivity manager, can provide additional support, resources and treatment.

Dr. Smittkamp, also sees patients with hyperacusis, a disorder of loudness perception, and misophonia, the dislike of specific sounds. Both of these conditions may be caused by a dysfunction of the central auditory system in the brain.

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