Story from the Caledonian Mercury

Regular use of mobile phones linked to ear ringing

People who use mobile phones regularly may be putting themselves at risk of developing a debilitating ear condition.

A small study published today suggests that using a mobile for at least four years seems to be linked to a doubling in the risk of developing chronic tinnitus, a persistent ringing or hissing in the ear.

Regular use is defined as 10 minutes per day by the researchers, from the Institute of Environmental Health at the University of Vienna.

Chronic tinnitus is becoming more common and affects around 10 to 15 per cent of people in the developed world; there are few treatment options.

While there are some known causes or triggers, such as head trauma or ear disorders, there are few known risk factors or clear explanations for the increasing prevalence.

The authors compared 100 patients who needed treatment for chronic tinnitus with 100 people, matched for sex and age and who did not have the disorder, over the period of a year.

All were asked about the type of phone they used and where, which was seen as relevant because mobile phone output tends to be stronger in rural areas.

They were also asked about how long their calls took, how intensely they used the phone, which ear they preferred and whether they used hand-held devices.

Most tinnitus was one-sided with the left side accounting for 38 cases. More than a third described it as distressing “most of the time” which almost a third also had vertigo.

Although almost all the participants were mobile users, but only 84 tinnitus patients were using a mobile when the symptoms appeared (compared to 78 in the comparison group at the start of the study).

The patients who had used a mobile before the onset of tinnitus were 37 per cent more likely to have the condition than those in the comparison group, while those who used their mobiles for an average of 10 minutes per day were 71 per cent more likely to have the condition.

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