Association of tinnitus and electromagnetic hypersensitivity: hints for a shared pathophysiology?
PLoS One. 2009 ;4(3):e5026. Epub 2009 Mar 27. PMID: 19325894
BACKGROUND: Tinnitus is a frequent condition with high morbidity and impairment in quality of life. The pathophysiology is still incompletely understood. Electromagnetic fields are discussed to be involved in the multi-factorial pathogenesis of tinnitus, but data proofing this relationship are very limited. Potential health hazards of electromagnetic fields (EMF) have been under discussion for long. Especially, individuals claiming themselves to be electromagnetic hypersensitive suffer from a variety of unspecific symptoms, which they attribute to EMF-exposure. The aim of the study was to elucidate the relationship between EMF-exposure, electromagnetic hypersensitivity and tinnitus using a case-control design.
METHODOLOGY: Tinnitus occurrence and tinnitus severity were assessed by questionnaires in 89 electromagnetic hypersensitive patients and 107 controls matched for age-, gender, living surroundings and workplace. Using a logistic regression approach, potential risk factors for the development of tinnitus were evaluated.
FINDINGS: Tinnitus was significantly more frequent in the electromagnetic hypersensitive group (50.72% vs. 17.5%) whereas tinnitus duration and severity did not differ between groups. Electromagnetic hypersensitivity and tinnitus were independent risk factors for sleep disturbances. However, measures of individual EMF-exposure like e.g. cell phone use did not show any association with tinnitus.
CONCLUSIONS: Our data indicate that tinnitus is associated with subjective electromagnetic hypersensitivity. An individual vulnerability probably due to an over activated cortical distress network seems to be responsible for, both, electromagnetic hypersensitivity and tinnitus. Hence, therapeutic efforts should focus on treatment strategies (e.g. cognitive behavioral therapy) aiming at normalizing this dysfunctional distress network.