Tinnitus and associations with chronic pain: The population-based Tromsø Study (2015-2016)

PLoS One. 2021 Mar 2;16(3):e0247880. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0247880. eCollection 2021.


Tinnitus and pain have many similarities. Both are subjective sensations that may turn chronic, they are often accompanied by hypersensitivity in their respective sensory system, and overlapping brain changes have been observed. Since no population study has examined the empirical association between chronic pain and tinnitus, the present study aimed to explore the relationship in a general adult population. We used data from the seventh survey of the Tromsø Study (2015-2016). Participants (aged ≥40) responded to questions about pain and tinnitus. Using multiple logistic regression, we analysed the adjusted relationship between chronic pain and tinnitus in the full sample (n = 19,039), using several tinnitus definitions ranging from tinnitus >5 minutes within the past 12 months (broadest definition) to at least weekly and highly bothersome tinnitus (strictest definition). We also analysed relationships between number of body regions with pain, pain intensity and bothering, and tinnitus >5 minutes, among participants with chronic pain (n = 11,589). We found an association between chronic pain and tinnitus that was present irrespective of tinnitus definition, but was stronger with more bothersome tinnitus. With chronic pain, the odds of tinnitus >5 minutes was 64% higher, while odds of at least weekly, highly bothersome tinnitus was 144% higher than without chronic pain. Among participants with chronic pain, the number of pain regions was the pain variable most strongly associated with tinnitus >5 minutes (OR = 1.17 (95% CI: 1.14-1.20) for an increase of one region), whereas the other pain variables (intensity and bothering) showed weaker associations. All chronic pain variables had significant interactions with age, with the strongest associations for the youngest individuals (40-54 years). Our findings support the existence of an association between chronic pain and tinnitus and emphasises the importance of examining for comorbid pain in tinnitus patients to provide a more comprehensive treatment of tinnitus.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Chronic Pain / epidemiology*
  • Comorbidity
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Incidence
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Norway / epidemiology
  • Prevalence
  • Tinnitus / epidemiology*

Grant support

This work was funded by Dam Foundation/the Norwegian Association for the Hard of Hearing (grant number 2017/FO144900, awarded to JHLA, https://www.dam.no/, https://www.hlf.no/). The funders had no role in study design, data collection and analyses, decision to publish, or preparation of the manuscript.