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Tinnitus afflicts about 749 million people worldwide

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Tinnitus, commonly described as ringing in the ears, affects about 749 million people worldwide, according to research in the journal JAMA Neurology and based on about five decades of data. Not a disease but rather a symptom of an underlying health condition, tinnitus is the perception of a constant or intermittent sound in one or both ears when there is no external source for the sound. Other than ringing, some people describe it as a clicking, hissing, buzzing or whistling sound. Often, the cause stems from damage to the auditory system, which is the body’s system (involving the ear, the brain and the nerves that connect them) responsible for the sense of hearing. The American Tinnitus Association, however, says that tinnitus can be a symptom of roughly 200 different health problems, including a blocked ear canal, head or neck injury, a sinus infection, certain medications, a host of diseases and medical conditions, as well as hearing loss from prolonged exposure to loud noise or age-related hearing loss. Also, some people develop tinnitus for no obvious reason, according to the National Institutes of Health. The researchers found little difference by sex in the prevalence of tinnitus, but its occurrence did increase with age — affecting 10 percent of young adults, 14 percent of those middle age and 24 percent of those 65 and older. Although there is no universal cure for tinnitus, finding and treating the underlying condition may quell the sounds. If that does not work, a doctor may suggest ways to manage the effect of tinnitus on daily life, such as the use of hearing aids, sound generators (for internal or external use), techniques to ease stress and increase relaxation or, if appropriate, medication or counseling.

This article is part of The Post’s “Big Number” series, which takes a brief look at the statistical aspect of health issues. Additional information and relevant research are available through the hyperlinks.

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