Prevalence of and Risk Factors for Tinnitus and Tinnitus-Related Handicap in a College-Aged Population

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Abstract

Objective:

Tinnitus is a common otological condition that affects almost 10% of US adults. Research suggests that college students are vulnerable to tinnitus and hearing loss as they are exposed to traumatic levels of noise on a regular basis. Tinnitus and its influence in daily living continue to be underappreciated in the college-aged population. Therefore, the objective for the present study was to analyze prevalence and associated risk factors of tinnitus and tinnitus-related handicap in a sample of college-aged students.

Design:

A survey was administered to 678 students aged 18–30 years in a cross-section of randomly selected university classes. The survey was adopted from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (2010). It inquired about demographic details, medical and audiological history, routine noise exposure, smoking, sound level tolerance, tinnitus, and tinnitus-related handicap in daily living. Tinnitus-related handicap was assessed by the Tinnitus Handicap Inventory (THI). Participants were divided into four groups: chronic tinnitus (bothersome tinnitus for >1 year), acute tinnitus (bothersome tinnitus for ≤1 year), subacute tinnitus (at least one experience of tinnitus in a lifetime), and no tinnitus (no experience of tinnitus in a lifetime).

Results:

The prevalence of chronic, acute, subacute, and no tinnitus was 8.4%, 13.0%, 37.9%, and 40.7% respectively. Almost 9% of subjects with any form of tinnitus reported more than a slight tinnitus-related handicap (i.e., THI score ≥18). A multinomial regression analysis revealed that individuals with high noise exposure, high sound level tolerance score, recurring ear infections, and self-reported hearing loss had high odds of chronic tinnitus. Females showed higher prevalence of acute tinnitus than males. Individuals with European American ethnicity and smoking history showed high odds of reporting subacute tinnitus. Almost 10% of the subjects reported that they were music students. The prevalence of chronic, acute, and subacute tinnitus was 11.3%, 22.5%, and 32.4%, respectively, for musicians, which was significantly higher than that for nonmusicians. Music exposure, firearm noise exposure, and occupational noise exposure were significantly correlated with tinnitus. Temporal characteristics of tinnitus, self-reported tinnitus loudness, and sound level tolerance were identified as major predictors for the overall THI score.

Conclusions:

Despite the reluctance to complain about tinnitus, a substantial portion of college-aged individuals reported tinnitus experience and its adverse influence in daily living. It was concluded that environmental and health-related factors can trigger tinnitus perception, while self-reported psychoacoustic descriptors of tinnitus may explain perceived tinnitus-related handicap in daily living by college-aged individuals. Future research is required to explore effects of tinnitus on educational achievements, social interaction, and vocational aspects of college students.

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