Tinnitus affects nearly 50 million Americans. For nearly 20 million people, it is a chronic condition with little relief and two million people are debilitated by extreme cases of it. According to the American Tinnitus Association, tinnitus is usually described as a ringing in the ears but can manifest as many other different sounds including “…buzzing, hissing, whistling, swooshing, and clicking. In rare cases, tinnitus patients report hearing music.” Tinnitus can be either temporary or an ongoing, chronic condition. Regardless of exactly how a person experiences it, the condition can cause extreme distress.
Extensive research on tinnitus is lacking and there is no cure. Scientists do know that it worsens with age. They theorize that it is caused by environmental and heredity factors. However, there isn’t a lot data to support those conclusions. That is why research into tinnitus is so important; it decodes the condition, leading scientists to a deeper understanding of it and potential treatments.
Bilateral tinnitus is more pronounced in men
A recent body of work has turned previous assumptions on the causes of tinnitus on their ear. A twin study conducted at Karolinska Institutet in collaboration with researchers at the European research network TINNET found that bilateral tinnitus is hereditary. Published in Genetics in Medicine, the study demonstrated that certain forms of tinnitus “…depend on genetic factors, particularly in men.”
Researchers called the finding “surprising”. Science Daily quoted one of the authors of the study saying, “This result is unexpected as it shows that, unlike the conventional view of tinnitus being driven by environmental factors, there is a genetic influence for bilateral tinnitus which is more pronounced in men.”
Not all tinnitus cases are the same
The study also discovered that both bilateral and unilateral (one side only) tinnitus are actually two different sub-groups of the condition. In lay terms, that means that not all tinnitus cases are the same; therefore, it shouldn’t be assumed to be treated in the same way. It has now been shown that there are two types, bilateral tinnitus that appears to be caused by hereditary factors and unilateral tinnitus that is not related to genetics. Researchers will use that new information to further clinical research into the condition and improve understanding of it.
The authors of the study said, “Tinnitus sufferers need better care and treatment than they’re currently getting. We need more genetic studies and a better molecular understanding of its generation, which could open unforeseen avenues to drug development.”