Epidemiology and risk factors of significant tinnitus: 10-year trends from a nested case-control study in the UK

Chief investigator

Professor Deborah Hall

Study team

Dr Carlos Martinez
Christopher Wallenhorst (PharmaEpi, Frankfurt)
Don McFerran (Colchester Hospital University NHS Foundation Trust)


Merz Pharmaceuticals GmbH (part funding)

Study period


In the UK, population statistics on the prevalence of tinnitus rely on the National Study of Hearing conducted in the 1980s. The UK prevalence estimate of five million is probably outdated and the UK incidence rate is unknown. Long-term incidence studies are particularly valuable for identifying factors associated with tinnitus development. Nevertheless, prospective incidence studies are costly to run and only two major studies have so far been reported, both of which relate to non-UK populations (Beaver Dam, Wisconsin, US and Blue Mountains Hearing Study, Sydney, Australia).

The National Health Service in England is one of the world leading custodians of anonymized patient records relevant to primary care and hospital settings. In collaboration with epidemiologists in Germany, we recently published a study [1] in which we accessed these records over a 10-year period (2002 to 2011) to investigate the incidence of clinically significant tinnitus. This identified people who attended a GP appointment about their tinnitus and were referred to otorhinolaryngology or other relevant specialist or underwent a specific procedure on the ear within 28 days of the GP visit.  The cumulative incidence indicated that one person out of every 171 was likely to have experienced clinically significant tinnitus across the 10-year period of the study. More specifically, we identified over 250,000 new cases of clinically significant tinnitus across the 10-year period. Overall, the incident rate increased steadily, with the highest incidence observed in men and women aged 60 to 69. These age-specific trends mirror the same patterns reported elsewhere. In our own data from the UK Biobank for example, we saw a steadily growing prevalence with age across the 40 to 69 year old sample studied (McCormack et al. 2014).

We conclude that tinnitus presents a burden to the health care system that has been rising in recent years. Population-based studies provide crucial underpinning evidence; highlighting the need for further research to address issues around effective diagnosis and clinical management of this heterogeneous condition.

[1] Martinez C, Wallenhorst C, McFerran D, Hall DA (2015) Incidence rates of clinically significant tinnitus: 10-year trend from a cohort study in England. Ear and Hearing 35(3): e69-75.