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Tinnitus prevalence

By Hugh Dominic W Stiles, on 1 March 2013

Recently we had an enquiry about tinnitus prevalence.  What follows is based on the information I uncovered trying to give an answer to that enquiry.

The figures for tinnitus will depend on a number of factors, for example the type or duration of tinnitus, and demographics, the subjective nature of tinnitus, the type of questions you ask people when you do a survey, and so on.  There will of course be other cautionary points to consider, such as the size of a sample, and other cultural or health related factors.

Back in 1987 the ‘MRC Institute of Hearing Research’ under Adrian Davis , discussed prevalence based on the National Study of Hearing (NSH) & the General Household Survey (pages 46-50), aged 17 and over in the UK (in chapter 3 “Epidemiology of Tinnitus” in Hazell (ed) Tinnitus p.46-70).  They estimated–

  • That 35-45% of adults have experienced tinnitus of some type.
  • About 15% of adults appear to have experienced spontaneous tinnitus lasting  over 5 mins.
  • At least 8% experience tinnitus causing interference with their getting to sleep & or moderate annoyance. “This would suggest about 4 million adults in the UK being affected”.
  • 0.5% report their tinnitus has a severe effect on their ability to lead a normal life “this amounts to 200,00 persons in the UK”.

In Tyler’s Tinnitus Handbook (2000), Davis quotes (chapter 1 p.4-5) the NSH based on – 

Postal questionnaires (“see Davis 1989”)

  • About 10.1% of adults experience prolonged spontaneous tinnitus.
  • 5.1% reported unilateral tinnitus.
  • 5% bilateral tinnitus.
  • That “the major indicator in this study was tinnitus annoyance. The study showed that about 5% had tinnitus which is moderately or severely annoying.”
  • 5% reported sleep disturbance. There was a considerable overlap with tinnitus annoyance such that 6% suffered either sleep disturbance or moderate-severe annoyance or moderate-severe annoyance or both.
  • The prevalence rate for a severe effect on quality of life was lower than those who had moderate-severely annoying tinnitus at about 1%.
  • Prevalence of those who reported a severe effect on ability to lead a ‘normal’ life was even less at 0.5%. “While this latter figure seems small it represents a large number of people: 200-250,000 in the United Kingdom and in excess of one million in the United States.”

From in clinic examinations

  • That increased age was important – 4.3% tinnitus in the in 17-30 age group, 15.8% in the 61-70 age group.
  • Slightly more females than males had tinnitus (p.12-13).

Overall then he concludes (p.6)

  • That there is a 10.1-14.5% prevalence, and up to 22 to 32% if the criteria are relaxed to include occasional tinnitus following noise or the common cold.
  • That 3-4% of adults consult a family doctor about tinnitus at least once in a lifetime with a similar percentage consulting about a hearing problem and tinnitus, “an indication of the magnitude of the problem”.

It seems to me it would be better if people stuck with, and quoted, percentages at a certain date/place where an article gives them, rather than trying to extrapolate for the population to best guesses in the millions.

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