Tinnitus, the perception of sounds in the head or ears, usually described by sufferers as a ringing, buzzing, or whistling, is disturbing enough. On top of that, new research finds that people who were lonely, worried, anxious, miserable, or experiencing mood swings were more likely to report their tinnitus as being bothersome.
The results suggest that those people with a more sensitive personality may be less able to cope with the symptoms of their hearing condition.
Study leader Abby McCormack, of the National Institute for Health Research Nottingham Hearing Biomedical Research Unit, said:
“It is likely that personality factors play an important role in the perception and management of tinnitus, possibly by influencing the tendency to be aware of it. Therefore treatment should be tailored for individual personality types to help people cope with their condition.”
Objective or Subjective Tinnitus
Tinnitus can be caused by sounds generated by internal biological activity, known as objective tinnitus, or caused by abnormal brain activity not formed by sounds, known as subjective tinnitus.
Subjective tinnitus is much more common, affecting up to an estimated 20 percent of the UK population. Of those sufferers, around five percent report that it has a severe impact on their lives, leading to sleep disorders, concentration difficulties, and a higher incidence of anxiety and depression.
However, not all those affected by tinnitus experience the same amount of anguish and there is growing evidence to suggest that the perception of the severity of tinnitus is closely linked to a patient’s personality traits and the way they handle their condition.
The study aimed to gather more up to date information on how common tinnitus is among the UK population, while also examining the link between the perception of its severity and “neuroticism,” or the tendency to experiencing negative or distressing emotions.
Loneliness was the most significant factor of neuroticism that was associated with bothersome tinnitus, possibly because many sufferers may withdraw from social situations and experience feelings of isolation.
The findings could help health professionals in managing the care of tinnitus patients in the future, as it suggests that psychological approaches could be beneficial when delivered over the longer term.
Genetic, Environmental, and Lifestyle Causes
The study used information collected from more than 500,000 people aged between 40 and 69 years old between the years 2006 and 2010 as part of the UK Biobank, which was established as a resource for the study of the genetic, environmental, and lifestyle causes of common diseases.
As part of the range of questions which Biobank participants answered were those relating to both hearing and personality factors and the study also took into account factors including sex, age, and whether participants were from a deprived demographic.
The results showed that tinnitus affected around 16 percent of participants and was more prevalent in men than in women. Although men were more likely to experience tinnitus, women were more likely to find it bothersome.
Abby McCormack, Mark Edmondson-Jones, Heather Fortnum, Piers Dawes, Hugh Middleton, Kevin J. Munro, David R. Moore
The prevalence of tinnitus and the relationship with neuroticism in a middle-aged UK population
Journal of Psychosomatic Research Volume 76, Issue 1, January 2014, Pages 56–60 doi:10.1016/j.jpsychores.2013.08.018
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