This report details the results of a search of the published peer-reviewed literature investigating the relationship between tinnitus (ringing or buzzing in the ears), noise exposure at work and noise-induced hearing loss. A total of 12 citation databases (earliest date 1951) were searched which identified 252 publications, of which 34 were found to be relevant to the review. A number of studies have reported the prevalence of tinnitus in populations exposed to noise at work to be between 87.5% and 5.9%. Factors such as the type of participant (eg health surveillance, compensation claimant), the characteristics of the noise exposure and the definition of tinnitus used may contribute to this variability. Furthermore, four studies have shown that the prevalence of tinnitus in workers exposed to noise at work is significantly greater than in workers not exposed to noise. The majority of the published papers support the idea that there is an association between tinnitus and noise-induced hearing loss. The prevalence of tinnitus in those with hearing loss appears to be greater, and the hearing thresholds in those with tinnitus are higher. There is also a suggestion from one 15-year longitudinal study that tinnitus may be an early indicator of risk of the development of noise-induced hearing loss.
This report and the work it describes were funded by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE). Its contents, including any opinions and/or conclusions expressed, are those of the author alone and do not necessarily reflect HSE policy.
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