Gender and Chronic Tinnitus: Differences in Tinnitus-Related Distress Depend on Age and Duration of Tinnitus

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Abstract

Objective:

Conflicting data about the role of gender in tinnitus distress exist in the literature. In addition, little is known about gender differences regarding age and duration of tinnitus. Tinnitus was shown to be related to stress and impairment of coping, sense of coherence, and personal resources. There are known differences in the aforementioned psychological parameters between man and women or among different age groups. The authors hypothesized that this may also be true for patients with chronic tinnitus in addition to gender- and age-related differences in tinnitus annoyance. Therefore, using a large number of patients with chronic tinnitus, the authors analyzed pretherapeutic scores of tinnitus annoyance, perceived stress, proactive coping strategies, sense of coherence, and personal resources in addition to hearing loss and tinnitus pitch and loudness in respect to gender and age of the patients as well as duration of tinnitus.

Design:

The study group included 607 female and 573 male patients who reported tinnitus for longer than 3 months. The age of the patients ranged from 17 to 81 years in both gender groups. Pretherapeutic scores of tinnitus annoyance, perceived stress, proactive coping strategies, sense of coherence, and personal resources as well as the degree of hearing loss and tinnitus pitch and loudness were analyzed.

Results:

Irrespective of age and tinnitus duration, women were more annoyed by tinnitus and perceived more stress than men did. In addition, women scored lower than men in proactive coping, sense of coherence, and personal resources but had lower levels of hearing loss and tinnitus loudness than men did. The differences were small, but statistically significant. Analysis of three age groups revealed significant differences between older female and male patients. Tinnitus annoyance was stronger in the middle-age groups of women and men (45–59 years of age) than in younger patients and decreased again in older men (≥60 years of age), but not in older women. Women, but not men, had cognitive distress scores that progressed with age. Older women (≥60 years of age) reported more sleep disturbances than older men. Women had more somatic complaints and coped less efficiently than men, except for younger patients (<45 years of age). The scores of perceived stress decreased whereas scores of sense of coherence and self-efficacy increased in older men and women (≥60 years of age). However, women scored worse than men did in this age group. Hearing loss was found to be correlated with tinnitus loudness and age in both gender groups. The duration of tinnitus affected subjective hearing problems, intrusiveness of tinnitus, and proactive coping. This association was in part age-dependent.

Conclusions:

The authors found gender differences regarding tinnitus-related distress in patients with chronic tinnitus; however, these differences depended on age and in part on duration of tinnitus. Addressing these differences could result in improved, tailored therapy approaches. For instance, applying physical exercise and relaxation techniques could be of special help for older women to reduce their somatic complaints and sleep disturbances. Similarly, cognitive behavioral therapy could reduce their cognitive distress. Therapy for younger patients should in particular include stress management.

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