Researchers at the University of Auckland have published the first nationally representative study of tinnitus prevalence in New Zealand, using the largest study sample for tinnitus prevalence globally.
The study is published in the New Zealand Medical Journal today.
“This study has highlighted the importance of sex and age in defining a high-risk tinnitus population, but our knowledge falls short of profiling their ethnic and social-economic characteristics,” says researcher, Dr Grant Searchfield, a senior lecturer and expert in tinnitus in Audiology at the University of Auckland.
“Better understanding the prevalence of tinnitus contributes to meeting health service needs and identifying high-risk groups in New Zealand,” he says. “While our study has revealed some insight into ethnic variations in tinnitus prevalence in New Zealand, the effect of ethnicity on tinnitus remains largely unexplored.”
Tinnitus is a public health problem affecting about six percent of the New Zealand population (14 years and older). The study interviewed almost 70,000 people of this age group between August 2007 and July 2013.
“Tinnitus is the perception of sound in the head or ears in the absence of an external real sound,” says Dr Searchfield. “It’s commonly associated with hearing loss, but appears to be the result of a cascade of neuroplastic events in auditory pathways and central networks.
“Tinnitus effects can vary from slight annoyance to disruption of the individual’s life,” he says.
“This study responds to the lack of the population data for tinnitus in New Zealand and offers insight into the age and gender differences for tinnitus prevalence overall,” says Dr Searchfield.
“Tinnitus, along with hearing loss, will increase among the New Zealand population in the next 50 years,” he says. “New Zealand has some of the world’s leading researchers in this field and with unique opportunities to develop new treatment methods this research forms the basis of new initiatives in the New Zealand population.”
“Prevalence studies of tinnitus face challenges due to the ambiguity surrounding the way tinnitus is defined and whether questions used in collecting the data are appropriately worded,” says Billy Wu, the lead author of the study.
“The higher preva¬lence of tinnitus among males accounted for nearly 10,000 more cases of tinnitus in the total male population”, he says.
By age group, tinnitus prevalence was highest among older males 65 years and over (14.28 percent), but the largest difference by sex was seen among younger adults aged 14 to 24 years. In this age group, males were 55 percent more likely to report tinnitus compared to females.
“A notable difference by sex was also seen among adults aged 50 to 64 years, with males 32 percent more likely to report tinnitus compared to females,” says Dr
Daniel Exeter, senior lecturer in epidemiology at the University of Auckland’s School of Population Health. “There were ethnic variations in tinnitus prevalence with the largest difference by sex seen among both Asian males and females.”
Asian males were 32 percent more likely to report tinnitus compared to Asian females.
Pacific people were the only sub-group where females were more likely to experience any tinnitus compared to males, he says.
Across all groups, tinnitus prevalence was much higher among elderly adults with highest estimates among males aged 65 and over at 14.28 percent. By ethnicity, the likelihood of older adults reporting tinnitus was highest among Pacific people.
In the overall population, older adults aged 65 years and over were nearly three times more likely to report tinnitus than younger adults.
For media enquiries email Suzi Phillips at this link.
The University of Auckland