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PLoS One. 2011;6(11):e27379. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0027379. Epub 2011 Nov 18.

Does tinnitus distress depend on age of onset?

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Department of Clinical and Biological Psychology, University of Ulm, Ulm, Germany.



Tinnitus is the perception of a sound in the absence of any physical source of it. About 5-15% of the population report hearing such a tinnitus and about 1-2% suffer from their tinnitus leading to anxiety, sleep disorders or depression. It is currently not completely understood why some people feel distressed by their tinnitus, while others don't. Several studies indicate that the amount of tinnitus distress is associated with many factors including comorbid anxiety, comorbid depression, personality, the psychosocial situation, the amount of the related hearing loss and the loudness of the tinnitus. Furthermore, theoretical considerations suggest an impact of the age at tinnitus onset influencing tinnitus distress.


Based on a sample of 755 normal hearing tinnitus patients we tested this assumption. All participants answered a questionnaire on the amount of tinnitus distress together with a large variety of clinical and demographic data.


Patients with an earlier onset of tinnitus suffer significantly less than patients with an onset later in life. Furthermore, patients with a later onset of tinnitus describe their course of tinnitus distress as more abrupt and distressing right from the beginning.


We argue that a decline of compensatory brain plasticity in older age accounts for this age-dependent tinnitus decompensation.

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