Tinnitus is noises in the head, not related to any psychiatric condition. A constant ringing, buzzing or whistling from which some people never get a break. The intensity and the types of tinnitus may vary considerably from person to person, just as the causes differ between individuals. However, the majority of people who suffer from tinnitus find it very disturbing and uncomfortable.
Prevalence of tinnitus
Nobody knows precisely how many people experience permanent tinnitus and most people experience tinnitus temporarily. Several surveys made around the world have, however, found that when asked, around 5% of all adults say that they experience permanent tinnitus in one or both ears. Further, it is estimated that between 1% and 3% of the world’s population suffer so much from severe tinnitus that it has a significant, negative effect on their daily quality of life.
Due to increased exposure to leisure noise, especially among young people, the prevalence of tinnitus is expected to rise in the coming years.
Tinnitus and measured hearing loss
Recent studies from Italy and Germany show a strong connection between experienced tinnitus and measured hearing loss. While the German study finds that almost all the patients in the study suffering from tinnitus also have a measurable hearing loss, the Italian study shows among other things that the majority of the patients in the study with sensorineural hearing loss also have high-pitched tinnitus.
Treating hearing loss reduces tinnitus
Medical research carried out in the recent years indicates that tinnitus is caused by absent or reduced nerve activity in the nerves which connect the damaged part of the inner ear to the central nervous system in the brain. According to the medical research, the absent audiological input from the inner ear to the brain causes the hearing nerves between the inner ear and the brain to spontaneously send signals to the brain which are interpreted as sound – and this is what we experience as tinnitus.
Other studies have shown that treatment for hearing loss, for example through hearing aids or operations, can reduce tinnitus or at least the tinnitus experienced. This can be because of an increased audiological input due to the treatment of hearing loss wholly or partially “hides” the tinnitus. It can however also be because the spontaneous signals in the nerves are reduced. Thus, even though there is no scientifically proven cure for tinnitus, treatment for hearing loss can reduce the experienced tinnitus.