Hearing management

Updated 14 December 2017

Could your cellphone give you tinnitus?

Small study spots link -- but not causal relationship -- with tinnitus; outside expert calls the research flawed

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Regular cell phone use may increase the risk of developing persistent ringing in the ear - a condition known as tinnitus, a small Austrian study suggests.

But one U.S. ear specialist called the data used for the study "very weak," adding that the study failed to prove a connection between cell phone use and tinnitus.

The study's lead researcher, Dr. Hans-Peter Hutter of the Institute of Environmental Health at the Medical University of Vienna, said "high intensity, long duration of mobile phone use might be associated with occurrence of tinnitus. Therefore, we are recommending a far more conscious and cautious way of using mobile phones."

The study authors cited studies showing that tinnitus affects 10 percent to 15 percent of people in the developed world, and they said that number is increasing. The condition can severely affect quality of life for many sufferers, and little can be done to reduce the troublesome ringing, hissing or roaring.

Read: A visual guide to tinnitus

For the study, published online July 19 in the journal Occupational and Environmental Medicine, Hutter's team studied 100 people treated for chronic tinnitus and 100 without it. The participants were asked a variety of questions about their cell phone use.

Based on the participants' responses, the researchers estimated that people who used a cell phone before the first symptoms of tinnitus appeared were 37 percent more likely to develop the condition than those in the control group. Also, people who used their cell phone for at least 10 minutes a day were 71 percent more likely to develop tinnitus than the other study participants.

Most people in the study used their cell phones on both ears, but tinnitus typically affected one ear - 38 percent of participants mentioned the left ear and about the same percentage said it distressed them most of the time. Twenty-nine percent reported also suffering from vertigo, or dizziness.

The researchers said that the high amount of microwave energy being absorbed by the cochlea in the inner ear might explain the possible connection.

Hutter said loud noise is the main risk factor for tinnitus. But, he added, "we are observing a widespread use of mobile phones and an increasing intensity of use. Therefore, even a small enhancement of the risk by mobile phone use could be of public health importance."

Dr. Thomas J. Balkany, director of the University of Miami Ear Institute, said this study failed to show that using cell phones causes tinnitus.

"The data are very weak," Balkany said. "They [the study authors] haven't looked into the common causes of tinnitus in the kind of detail that would be necessary. These include stress and anxiety and depression, [and] the huge impact of MP3 players," he said.

A weak relationship seems to exist between tinnitus and cell phone use, Balkany said, "but it's not causative in any way."

A much larger study would be needed to determine whether cell phones really can cause tinnitus, he said.

Hutter said protective measures are easily implemented to protect hearing. These include discouraging cell phone use by children and teenagers, using headsets, and reducing the number and length of cell phone calls.

Read more:
The best treatment for tinnitus could lie in combining what's available
If your tinnitus is really bad, you may want to try the Widex ZEN2GO
10 Essential facts about tinnitus


(Copyright © 2010 HealthDay. All rights reserved.)

 

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Dr Kara Hoffman graduated from UCT in 2004, thereafter she completed her year of community service in Durban. In 2010 she completed her Masters Degree in Paediatric Aural Rehabilitation from UKZN. In 2016, she became a Doctor of Audiology through the University of Arizona (ATSU). Dr Hoffman and her partner Lauren Thompson opened a fully diagnostic audiology practice called Thompson & Hoffman Audiology Inc. In 2011 with world-class technology and equipment to be able to offer the broad public all hearing-related services including hearing testing for adults and babies, vestibular (balance) assessments and rehabilitation, industrial audiology, hearing devices, central auditory processing assessments for school-aged children, school screening, neonatal hearing screening programmes at Alberlito and Parklands Hospital, cochlear implants and other implantable devices, medicolegal assessments and advanced electroacoustic assessments of hearing. Thompson and Hoffman Audiology Inc. are based at Alberlito Hospital in Ballito, St Augustines Hospital in Durban and at 345 Essenwood Road, Musgrave. The practices are all wheelchair friendly. There are three audiologists that practice from Thompson & Hoffman – including Dr Kara Hoffman, Lauren Thompson & Minette Lister. The practice boasts professional, highly qualified, and extensive diagnostic services where all your hearing healthcare needs can be met. The additional licensing in vestibular assessment and rehabilitation, paediatric rehabilitation and cochlear implantation places this practice in one of the top specialist audiological positions in South Africa, with a wealth of experience in all clinical areas of audiology and is a very well respected and sought-after practice.

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