Importance: No effective treatments are currently available for severe tinnitus, which affects 1% of the population and lowers the quality of life. The factors that contribute to the transition from mild to severe tinnitus are poorly known. Before performing genetic analyses and determining the mechanisms involved in the development of severe tinnitus, its heritability needs to be determined.
Objectives: To examine whether clinically significant tinnitus is associated with genetic factors and to evaluate the genetic risk in the transmission of tinnitus using adoptees.
Design, setting, and participants: Data from adoptees and their biological and adoptive parents from Swedish nationwide registers were collected from January 1, 1964, to December 31, 2015, and used to separate genetic from environmental factors in familial clustering. In all, 11 060 adoptees, 19 015 adoptive parents, and 17 025 biological parents were investigated. The study used a cohort design and a case-control approach to study genetic and nongenetic factors in tinnitus among adoptees.
Main outcomes and measures: The primary outcome was odds ratio (OR) of tinnitus in adoptees with at least 1 affected biological parent compared with adoptees without any affected biological parent using logistic regression. The secondary outcome was OR in adoptees with at least 1 affected adoptive parent compared with adoptees without any affected adoptive parent.
Results: A total of 1029 patients (440 [42.8%] male; mean [SD] age, 62  years) with tinnitus were identified. The prevalence of diagnosed tinnitus was 2.2%. The OR for tinnitus was 2.22 for adoptees (95% CI, 1.03-4.81) of biological parents diagnosed with tinnitus, whereas the OR was 1.00 (95% CI, 0.43-2.32) for adoptees from adoptive parents diagnosed with tinnitus. Mean (SE) heritability determined using tetrachoric correlations was 31% (14%).
Conclusions and relevance: The findings suggest that genetic factors are associated with the familial clustering of clinically significant tinnitus with no shared-environment association, revealing that the transition from negligible to severe tinnitus may be associated with genetic factors. These findings may provide insight for future genetic analyses that focus on severe tinnitus.