The Risks of Undiagnosed Tinnitus

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Barriers to Tinnitus Care

Tinnitus, also called “ringing in the ears” is a surprisingly common issue in adults. While not a condition in and of itself, tinnitus is actually a symptom of a wide range of different medical issues. Thus, treating tinnitus means treating the underlying cause, which can be difficult to identify. That being said, tinnitus treatments and therapies do exist and can help improve one’s quality of life.

If tinnitus can often be treated or managed, why do so many people leave their tinnitus untreated? Despite the potentiality of treatment, many would-be patients avoid medical care and continue to suffer. A recent study, however, shows that avoiding tinnitus treatment can do more than just decrease one’s quality of life: untreated tinnitus might have long-term effects on one’s health that go well beyond just an annoying ringing in one’s ears.

The Study

Researchers at the University of Western Australia have come out with a new meta-study looking at the different factors that affect one’s decision to seek out medical care for tinnitus and how this affects one’s long-term health. The study looked at nine different papers, each of which identified a number of different possible barriers to medical care for tinnitus treatment from a health professional’s perspective. Here’s what they found:

  • Time: Time was one of the most common barriers to treatment across all of the studies. Many patients prefer not to seek out medical care because they feel that higher-level providers (physicians and physician assistants) do not spend much time with them during a consultation. This reality, coupled with prolonged wait times for an appointment with a specialist, decrease a patient’s desire to seek out medical care.
  • Quality of referrals: Some studies have found that patients are not being appropriately referred to hearing healthcare professionals for their tinnitus, perhaps because of a lack of proper training for general medical practitioners.
  • Education and knowledge: Many patients seek out initial tinnitus treatment from a general practitioner or family physician who may not have proper training or the knowledge necessary to effectively assess tinnitus. Thus, many patients may feel that their physician does not take their symptoms seriously or properly refer them to specialized care.
  • Healthcare provider approach: Some patients have found that their general practitioners or family doctors were not terribly interested in their tinnitus case, telling them that “nothing can be done”, despite the fact that treatments and therapies are available. This attitude can decrease patient willingness to seek out a second opinion or further care.
  • Lack of services: In some areas, patients may be unable to actually see a hearing healthcare professional for treatment because of a lack of local services. Even if an initial consultation can be scheduled, many patients also struggle with finding long-term support services, which are critical for managing tinnitus.

Implications For Long-Term Health

All of these barriers to tinnitus care mean that thousands of would-be patients do not receive the treatment and therapy they need to manage a potentially debilitating issue. Since tinnitus is a symptom and not a stand-alone condition, a lack of tinnitus care also means that the underlying condition causing this issue also goes unaddressed.

Tinnitus has a large number of different causes, some of which can cause long-term hearing damage or a lower quality of life if left untreated. Some of these, like obstructions in the middle ear from wax, dirt, or foreign objects, can often be treated, while others, like trauma, can be a sign of larger medical issues that need further attention.

Ultimately, untreated tinnitus can be dangerous and negatively affect someone’s quality of life in the long term. Barriers to care, whether real or perceived, can easily prevent someone with tinnitus from receiving the medical attention they need to live a full and happy life.

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