Ringing in your ears? About 750 million people have this puzzling condition, according to one study.

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Researchers estimate that about 14% of adults experience tinnitus, while 2% experience a severe form.


Tinnitus, commonly described as ringing in the ears, may affect an estimated 750 million people worldwide, according to new research based on some 50 years of data.

The study, published this week in the research journal JAMA Neurology, suggests that tinnitus is perceived as a major problem by more than 120 million people, most of whom are 65 and older.

Researchers estimate that about 14% of adults experience tinnitus, while 2% experience a severe form. Prevalence also appears to increase with age, with tinnitus affecting 10% of young adults ages 18-44, 14% of middle-aged adults ages 45-64, and 24% of those older than 65 years.

The findings line up with previous estimates. The American Tinnitus Association estimates that almost 15% of people, or more than 50 million Americans, experience tinnitus. The National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders says that around 10% of American adults, or nearly 25 million people, have experienced tinnitus for at least five minutes in the past year.

“This study suggests that the global burden of tinnitus is large, similar to migraine and pain, and the lack of effective treatment options warrants a large investment in research in this area,” the researchers wrote.

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What is tinnitus?

While tinnitus is commonly referred to as a ringing in the ears, it can take many other forms, including ringing, hissing, hissing, and clicking, according to the American Tinnitus Association. In rare cases, it can also sound like music.

The sounds can be soft or loud, high-pitched or low-pitched, and can occur in one or both ears, according to the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders.

The condition can be temporary or chronic, the ATA said. It is not a disease in itself, but rather a symptom of other underlying health conditions, according to the association.

What causes tinnitus?

In most cases, tinnitus is a reaction in the brain to damage to the ear or auditory system, according to the ATA. However, the association says that tinnitus can be a symptom of about 200 different health problems, including hearing loss, blockages in the middle ear, and head and neck trauma.

Even something as simple as a piece of earwax blocking the ear canal can cause tinnitus, the NIDCD said. The condition can also be the first sign of hearing loss in older adults, or it can be a side effect of more than 200 different medications.

Still, some people may develop tinnitus for no obvious reason, the institute said.

“Scientists have not yet agreed on what happens in the brain to create the illusion of sound when there is none,” the NIDCD said.

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effects of tinnitus

Tinnitus is not usually a sign of a serious health problem, according to the NIDCD. But if it’s strong and persistent, it can cause memory and concentration problems, fatigue, anxiety, and depression.

“For some, tinnitus can be a source of real mental and emotional distress,” the institute said.

The ATA also said that chronic tinnitus can be a debilitating condition that can interfere with a person’s ability to work and socialize.

Who is most at risk?

People at higher risk for tinnitus include older people, active duty military personnel or veterans, people who work in noisy environments, and musicians, according to the ATA.

Military personnel can develop tinnitus when exposed to bomb blasts, and tinnitus is among the most common service-connected disabilities for veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan, according to the NIDCD.

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Is there a cure for tinnitus?

There is no “scientifically validated cure” for most forms of tinnitus, the ATA said. But treatment options can reduce the effects of the condition and help people live more comfortably.

The NIDCD recommends seeing a primary care physician to check if something like ear wax is blocking the ear canal.

If a primary care doctor can’t find the condition that may be causing the tinnitus, he or she may refer the patient to an otolaryngologist who specializes in ear, nose, and throat.

Treatments that can help with tinnitus include hearing aids, counseling and portable sound generators, the NIDCD said. Limiting exposure to loud noise can also help prevent tinnitus from getting worse.

Contact News Now reporter Christine Fernando at cfernando@usatoday.com or follow her on Twitter at @christinetfern.

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