The buzz about tinnitus – it’s a growing problem for millions

Even if you plug your ears, the phantom ringing won't go away.

Even if you plug your ears, the phantom ringing won't go away. Photo: Getty

With one in seven people globally expected to have tinnitus at some point, Australian researchers are raising awareness on ways to prevent deafness and hearing loss.

It is estimated 1.5 billion people worldwide have measurable hearing loss in light of increasing life expectancy and more noise exposure.

Signs of early hearing loss come in the form of tinnitus, commonly described as a ringing or roaring sound with a lack of external stimulus.

Matthieu Recugnat from Macquarie University said it was almost like hearing cicadas in a closed room.

“But it is a lot more complex than that because people will be different and have different perceptions,” Recugnat said on World Hearing Day on Sunday.

“It has different impacts on their lifestyle and on their quality of life in general.”

No cure-all pill

Researchers are looking for a tinnitus cure but the “pill that will make it disappear” doesn’t exist.

Technology and its increased prevalence means sounds are closer than ever and Recugnat expected cases of tinnitus to increase.

A correlation between hearing loss and general occupational and non-occupational noise as well as more young people using devices for music meant awareness needed to be spread, he said.

Exposure to extremely loud noises such as explosions or gunfire, and ongoing sounds of heavy machinery or power tools are also factors.

And while cochlear implant technology is the most effective active prosthesis developed in health, there are ways for people of all ages to preserve their hearing.

Recugnat urged everyone to pay closer attention to their sense of audition.

“Hearing cells are very fragile and the cells in your ears – cochlea – are one of the cells in the body that don’t regenerate once you’ve lost them. You can’t make them grow back, you need to be careful about those,” he said.

Treatment-related side effects

Bamini Gopinath, who leads Macquarie’s Hearing research team, was surprised to find medical-related risk factors were behind the highest rate of hearing loss after reviewing data from 72 studies.

More than 55 per cent of people who have cancer treatment, including combined radiotherapy and chemotherapy, go on to develop hearing loss.

“It’s not well understood what it is about radiotherapy that can result in hearing loss, but it may be that radiation damages the sensitive components of the ear,” Gopinath said.

About half of the people who took powerful antibiotics for diseases such as tuberculosis and pneumonia lost their hearing capacity, the study found.

Gopinath said less destructive medications were needed.

“When treating infections, clinicians should always consider less-toxic alternatives if available,” she said.

More than one in four people who contracted COVID-19 experienced some form of hearing loss.

“Age remains the single biggest determinant in adult-onset hearing loss, but these results remind us that there are other important risk factors that we need to be alert to,” Gopinath said.


Topics: Health
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