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May 28, 2024

Study finds 15 percent of people deal with tinnitus daily. Here's what to know about the hearing condition

Respondents older than 55 were more common to report having regular ringing or buzzing sounds in their ears.

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tinnitus apple study Liza Summer/Pexels

Tinnitus is the perception of sound that does not have an external source, meaning others can't hear it. A new study by Apple found that 77.6 percent of participants have experienced it in their lifetime.

Hearing ringing or buzzing sounds in your ears may be more common than you think, according to new research.

Out of 160,000 people, about 15 percent said they experience tinnitus — the perception of sound that others do not hear — every day, according to a hearing study by Apple and the University of Michigan.

The Apple Hearing Study is an ongoing project to examine sound exposure and its impact on hearing health. In the latest update, referred to as "one of the largest surveys on tinnitus to date," University of Michigan researchers reviewed participants' survey responses and assessments characterizing their experiences in hopes to improve understanding of the ailment. 

They found that 77.6 percent of study participants experienced tinnitus in their life, with the prevalence of it occurring daily increasing with age. People 55 and older were three-times more likely to experience it daily than people ages 18 to 34. Also, 2.7 percent more male participants reported daily tinnitus than females, but 4.8 percent more males said they never experienced it. 

The study also noted that the majority of participants experience brief episodes of tinnitus, compared with 14.7 percent who said it's constant for them.

With regards to the management of their tinnitus, 28 percent of participants reported using noise machines, 23.7 percent reported listening to nature sounds and 12.2 percent reported practicing meditation. When asked what they believe caused the condition, the majority cited exposure to excessively high levels of noise.

"Tinnitus is something that can have a large impact on a person’s life," Rick Neitzel, a University of Michigan School of Public Health’s professor, said in a release. "The trends that we’re learning through the Apple Hearing Study about people’s experience with tinnitus can help us better understand the groups most at risk, which can in turn help guide efforts to reduce the impacts associated with it. The Apple Hearing Study gives us an opportunity that was not possible before to improve our understanding of tinnitus across demographics, aiding current scientific knowledge that can ultimately improve management of tinnitus."  

Here's what to know about tinnitus:

What is it?

Tinnitus is the perception of sound that does not have an external source, meaning others can't hear it, according to the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders. It can happen in one or both ears, and it can be momentary or occur over long periods of time. The sounds heard during tinnitus can take many forms, but it is most commonly described as a ringing sound. Some people with the condition hear roaring, buzzing, whistling, hissing, clicking or squealing sounds. Tinnitus can impact a person’s quality of life by affecting their mood or disrupting their sleep, concentration or ability to hear clearly.

What are the causes?

The exact causes are not yet fully understood, but most people who have it have some degree of hearing loss. It has also been linked to noise exposure. Many people experience it after being exposed to loud noises in the workplace or at a sporting event or concert. Tinnitus is the most common service-related disability among veterans, due to loud noises they may have heard from gunfire, machinery or bomb blasts. Other possible causes include medications, head or neck injuries, and earwax or ear infection. In rare cases, tinnitus may be associated with serious conditions like Ménière’s disease, jaw joint problems, tumor-related disorders or blood vessel problems.

What are treatments?

There's no guaranteed method to prevent tinnitus, due to its complex list of possible causes, and there is also no cure. But there are some possible preventative measures people can take and ways they can try to reduce symptoms. Some steps to lower the chances include practicing hearing protection and managing stress levels. For people experiencing tinnitus, doctors may recommend some form of sound therapy, which could include sound generators or hearing aids. Other options include behavioral therapy, to reduce the impact of tinnitus on your life, or medications to help you sleep or improve your mood.

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