The prevalence of tinnitus is no secret in today’s society, with – according to the American Tinnitus Association – more than 50 million people in the United States alone suffering from the condition. At the same time, accurately diagnosing tinnitus can be challenging, says Curtis Amann, vice-president of marketing and sales for Neuromonics, Inc. Described as ringing in the ears when no external sounds are present, tinnitus symptoms are different for each person, Amann said, and can include ringing, buzzing, humming, roaring, or whistling sounds. Understanding the populations that are at greatest risk for tinnitus can help individuals determine whether they may have the condition. At-risk individuals also can try and lessen exposure to the conditions that may have caused, or are contributing to, their tinnitus.
Usually brought on by exposure to loud noise, tinnitus is especially significant in the military. More than 34% of returning veterans from Iraq and Afghanistan suffering from the condition, now the No. 1 service-connected disability for veterans from all periods of service. Since 2005, the number of veterans receiving service-connected disability for tinnitus has increased by at least 15% each year, according to the American Tinnitus Association. The total number of veterans awarded disability compensation for tinnitus at the end of 2010 surpassed 744,000.
Musicians and Music Lovers
Any kind of music, ranging from classical to heavy metal, can be too loud. Performers, audio engineers and listeners of all types of music are at risk for noise-induced tinnitus. As technology helps weave music into almost every facet of life, the danger of music that is too loud continues to increase. Individuals will not begin to suffer from tinnitus in the short run; the condition arises as a cumulative effect of noise over a period of years.
Individuals Who Work Near Loud Equipment
Those who work, or who have previously worked, with aircraft, or loud machinery or other equipment constitute another significant at-risk group. Despite better regulations to control noise levels in the workplace, and hearing protection devices, continual exposure over time to noisy environments may contribute to the incidence of tinnitus.
Tinnitus is prevalent as one of many age-related hearing problems in the older population. Causes likely include the cumulative effect of loud noises and general noise pollution over the years. “We live in an extraordinarily noisy world that is getting noisier by the day,” says Amann. “Tinnitus can strike anyone, at any time, but for individuals particularly at risk, it is important to be aware of the condition, and to take precautions to mitigate levels of noise exposure.”