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Almost 15 % of Europe’s adults have a ringing in their ears, say researchers

A new study reports what could be the first ever pan-European estimate of tinnitus sufferers in Europe based on standardised research methods across countries.

Health

More than 1 in 7 adults in Europe experience a high-pitched ringing in the ears called tinnitus, according to a recent study supported by the EU-funded ESIT, UNITI and GENDER NET Plus projects. Until now, estimates of tinnitus prevalence varied widely – from 5 % to 43 %, mainly due to inconsistencies in research methods and assessment questions used in different studies. Published in the journal ‘The Lancet Regional Health – Europe’, the new study reports a single pan-European estimate for the prevalence of tinnitus. Tinnitus is a common problem. While mostly associated with a ringing sound, it can also present itself in the form of a buzzing, hissing, humming, clicking or even roaring sound in the head that ranges from simply bothersome to severe. In its most debilitating form, it adversely affects a person’s emotional health and social well-being and can cause psychological stress. Although there are treatments available to manage the condition, there is currently no cure for tinnitus. The current study is most likely the first of its kind to have collected multinational data on tinnitus using the same standardised survey questions and response options across 12 European countries. A total of 11 427 adults aged 18 years and older took part in the population-based survey that spanned Bulgaria, England, France, Germany, Greece, Ireland, Italy, Latvia, Poland, Portugal, Romania and Spain.

Tinnitus in numbers

The researchers found that the prevalence of any type of tinnitus was 14.7 %, with bothersome tinnitus found in 6 % and severe tinnitus in 1.2 % of the survey participants. Practically speaking, this means that about 65 million people in Europe have tinnitus, of whom 26 million report bothersome tinnitus and 4.4 million severe. Additionally, prevalence of the condition appeared to increase significantly with age and progressive hearing loss. The team also noted that the number of clinic visits for tinnitus increased as tinnitus symptoms became more severe. This suggests that more severe tinnitus poses an additional burden on national healthcare systems. “This is the first time that we’ve properly and rigorously measured the scale of how much of a problem tinnitus is across Europe as a whole,” reports study co-author Prof. Michael Akeroyd of the University of Nottingham, United Kingdom, in a news item posted on the ‘Nottingham Biomedical Research Centre’ website. “Tinnitus can affect people’s mental wellbeing, and as the population grows, and people live for longer, this problem will only get worse. We hope that this data can now be used to implement effective treatments and to encourage the appropriate stakeholders across the EU to look at how they can tackle this growing problem.” UNITI (Unification of treatments and Interventions for Tinnitus patients) and the recently completed ESIT (European School for Interdisciplinary Tinnitus Research) are coordinated by University Hospital Regensburg, Germany. The GENDER NET Plus (ERA-NET Cofund Promoting Gender Equality in H2020 and the ERA) project is coordinated by the French National Centre for Scientific Research. For more information, please see: ESIT project website UNITI project website GENDER NET Plus project website

Keywords

ESIT, UNITI, GENDER NET Plus, tinnitus, ear