Over 45 million Americans struggle with tinnitus, making it one of the most common health conditions in the United States.
Each year, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control conducts its National Health and Nutritional Examinations Survey, a longitudinal study of the health of the American population. In the 2011-2012 Survey (the most recent year from which data is available) the CDC included several questions on tinnitus, to ascertain the full scope and severity of the condition on a population level. The survey discovered:
- 15% of all survey respondents experienced some form of tinnitus
- 67% of people reporting tinnitus had regular symptoms for over a year
- 26% of people reporting tinnitus had constant or near constant tinnitus
- 30% of people reporting tinnitus classified their condition as a “moderate” to “very big” problem in their life
Extrapolating these findings to the national population suggests that nearly 20 million people are dealing with burdensome tinnitus on a regular basis; and approximately 2 million people are struggling with severe, sometimes debilitating, tinnitus.
Demographic Trends with Tinnitus
Tinnitus is primarily caused by environmental and behavioral factors, with noise exposure and hearing loss being the main catalysts for the condition. There are very few known genetic-based catalysts for tinnitus. However, for a variety of reasons, certain demographic groups appear to be more susceptible to both acute and chronic tinnitus on the population level.
The following data is derived from Shargorodsky, Curhan, and Farwell’s 2010 analysis, Characteristics of Tinnitus among U.S. Adults, originally published in the American Journal of Medicine.
Males get tinnitus more often than females
This disparity may be attributable to males being more represented in the workforce, particularly in loud professions such as manufacturing, construction, and military service. Men are also more likely to participate in high hearing-risk behavior, such as hunting and motorsports.
Tinnitus is more common in older populations
The prevalence of tinnitus grows as people get older, peaking for the age 60-69 cohort. The increase is probably due to both age-related hearing loss and accumulative noise-induced hearing loss. It is unclear why incidents of tinnitus appears to decrease in cohorts older than 69.
Caucasians are more likely to have tinnitus
For an unknown reason, white, non-hispanics report a higher prevalence of tinnitus than other racial and ethnic groups.
While anyone, at any time, can develop tinnitus, there are some groups that are more vulnerable to acquiring the condition. Below are some of the groups that are at particular risk of developing tinnitus.
The primary catalyst of tinnitus is hearing loss, and age-related hearing loss tends to accelerate after the age of 60. As such, seniors are particularly prone to developing tinnitus as they age. Research suggests that roughly 30% of seniors experience tinnitus symptoms.
Active Military Personnel and Veterans
Tinnitus is a huge (and growing) problem for America's military personnel. Exposure to gunfire, explosives and loud machinery puts active military personnel at a high risk of noise-induced hearing loss and subsequent tinnitus. The consequences of in-duty noise exposure can last a lifetime. Tinnitus is the leading service-related disability among U.S. veterans, with 9.7% of all vets receiving service-related disability compensation for the condition in 2012.
People Employed in Loud Workplace Environments
For nearly 30 years, noise-induced hearing loss has been one of the most prevalent occupational health problems in the United States. Workers involved in agriculture, mining, construction, manufacturing, and transportation are particularly at-risk because of their loud work environments; but tinnitus can be a significant problem in almost any workplace. By some estimates, more than 125,000 workers have suffered permanent hearing loss since 2004.
Musicians and Music Lovers
Professional musicians, who spend their working life playing loud, amplified music are in particular danger of developing tinnitus. (Many famous musicians acknowledge they have the condition.) Music enthusiasts are also in jeopardy, as listening to loud music, whether at live concerts or via recording, can contribute to noise induced hearing loss.
Motorsports and Hunting Enthusiasts
Proximity and repeated exposure to loud engines and firearms make these activities particularly risky for future development of tinnitus symptoms.
People with a Prior Behavioral Health Issues
Patients with a history of depression, anxiety, and obsessive-compulsive disorder may be particularly prone to experiencing burdensome tinnitus. While these behavioral health issues do not cause tinnitus, per se, they do exacerbate symptoms.