MONDAY, July 19 (HealthDay News) -- Regular cell phone use may
increase the risk of developing persistent ringing in the ear -- a
condition known as tinnitus, a small Austrian study suggests.
But one U.S. ear specialist called the data used for the study
"very weak," adding that the study failed to prove a connection
between cell phone use and tinnitus.
The study's lead researcher, Dr. Hans-Peter Hutter of the
Institute of Environmental Health at the Medical University of
Vienna, said "high intensity, long duration of mobile phone use
might be associated with occurrence of tinnitus. Therefore, we are
recommending a far more conscious and cautious way of using mobile
The study authors cited studies showing that tinnitus affects 10
percent to 15 percent of people in the developed world, and they
said that number is increasing. The condition can severely affect
quality of life for many sufferers, and little can be done to
reduce the troublesome ringing, hissing or roaring.
For the study, published online July 19 in the journal
Occupational and Environmental Medicine, Hutter's team studied 100 people treated for chronic tinnitus and 100 without it. The participants were asked a variety of questions about their cell phone use.
Based on the participants' responses, the researchers estimated
that people who used a cell phone before the first symptoms of
tinnitus appeared were 37 percent more likely to develop the
condition than those in the control group. Also, people who used
their cell phone for at least 10 minutes a day were 71 percent more
likely to develop tinnitus than the other study participants.
Most people in the study used their cell phones on both ears,
but tinnitus typically affected one ear -- 38 percent of
participants mentioned the left ear and about the same percentage
said it distressed them most of the time. Twenty-nine percent
reported also suffering from vertigo, or dizziness.
The researchers said that the high amount of microwave energy
being absorbed by the cochlea in the inner ear might explain the
Hutter said loud noise is the main risk factor for tinnitus.
But, he added, "we are observing a widespread use of mobile phones
and an increasing intensity of use. Therefore, even a small
enhancement of the risk by mobile phone use could be of public
Dr. Thomas J. Balkany, director of the University of Miami Ear
Institute, said this study failed to show that using cell phones
"The data are very weak," Balkany said. "They [the study authors] haven't looked into the common causes of tinnitus in the kind of detail that would be necessary. These include stress and anxiety and depression, [and] the huge impact of MP3 players," he said.
A weak relationship seems to exist between tinnitus and cell
phone use, Balkany said, "but it's not causative in any way."
A much larger study would be needed to determine whether cell
phones really can cause tinnitus, he said.
Hutter said protective measures are easily implemented to
protect hearing. These include discouraging cell phone use by
children and teenagers, using headsets, and reducing the number and
length of cell phone calls.
To learn more about tinnitus, visit the
U.S. National Library of Medicine.