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The number of people living with tinnitus in the UK higher than previously thought

The British Tinnitus Association (BTA) is adjusting its estimation of how many people across the country suffer from tinnitus.
Following a full review of all the available research over the last 35 years about the prevalence in the UK of the often debilitating hearing condition, the BTA has increased its estimation from 10% of the population (one in 10) suffering from tinnitus to at least 13.2% (one in eight).

In addition, the charity has revealed that the number of people living with tinnitus is set to increase even further – by more than half a million over the next decade.

Based on previously available tinnitus prevalence figures and population projections from the Office for National Statistics (ONS), there are currently approximately 7.1 million people aged 17-99 in the UK with tinnitus but this figure is now expected to rise to almost 7.7 million in 2028.

The rise in tinnitus numbers is due to the increasing and aging UK population. However, a recent study from Statistics Canada revealed that 80% of adults aged 19 to 29 reported using headphones or earbuds connected to audio devices in the past year, significantly more than adults aged 30 to 49 (53%) or 50 to 79 (28%), and those adults aged 19 to 29 had rates of tinnitus over one third higher than for older adults. This could further inflate the projected numbers. The high proportion of people living with the burden, tinnitus and the increasing prevalence is something the BTA strongly believes needs more research and is urging the Government to invest in this area.

David Stockdale, chief executive of the BTA, said: “We recognise that calculating tinnitus prevalence is difficult because of different definitions, measurements and methodologies but our review of all the available literature suggests that the ‘1 in 10’ figure, which we have been using since 2000, considerably under-assesses the number of people who live with tinnitus in the UK, and that ‘1 in 8’ (13.2%) is a more accurate estimate.

“It is, however, important to stress that the BTA still believes that the 1 in 8 is a conservative figure, as some studies have suggested an even higher prevalence and it could be as high as 17.1% of the population. These statistics also don’t include the 560,000 more people we estimate will development tinnitus over the next 10 years or children, who we know also suffer from the condition. Equally, it doesn’t account for changes in other risk factors over the coming decade such as noise exposure.

“Tinnitus in older people can be a function of wear and tear as we age and hearing deteriorates so as more people are living longer, the number of people with tinnitus will increase. However, the recent report from Statistics Canada is extremely interesting and potentially sheds new light about the impact modern lifestyles are having on tinnitus rates in young people.”

Tinnitus, described as a sensation or awareness of sound that is not caused by a real external sound source. Approximately half of patients find it moderately or severely distressing, with complaints of intrusiveness, emotional stress, insomnia, auditory perceptual problems and difficulties with concentration. 

Added David: “Our new figures are significant because trusts and hospitals will have been using the wrong numbers to calculate provision for tinnitus services, which could explain why we have been regularly hearing from patients about long waits and dissatisfaction with audiology and ENT services. In addition, the burden on the NHS and wider UK economy is even greater than previously thought. What is absolutely evident from our review is that there is a vital need for a large epidemiological study of tinnitus and its risk factors to get even more accurate figures to help shape future health services.

“We need the Government to listen to the voices of people with tinnitus and act now to provide more research into the prevalence of the condition and more resource to help cope with the true number of people for whom tinnitus is a serious burden which affects their quality of life. The healthcare system has to be ready to manage the challenges that the increased tinnitus population now, and in the future, will bring.”

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