Background: Tinnitus is a heterogeneous condition. The aim of this study as to compare the online and hospital responses to the Spanish version of European School for Interdisciplinary Tinnitus Research screening-questionnaire (ESIT-SQ) in tinnitus individuals by an unsupervised age clustering.
Methods: A cross-sectional study was performed including 434 white Spanish patients with chronic tinnitus to assess the demographic and clinical profile through the ESIT-SQ, with 204 outpatients and 230 individuals from an online survey; a K-means clustering algorithm was used to classify both responses according to age.
Results: Online survey showed a high proportion of Meniere's disease (MD) patients compared to both the general population and the outpatient cohort. The responses showed statistically significant differences between groups regarding education level, tinnitus-related hearing disorders (MD, hyperacusis), sleep difficulties, dyslipidemia, and other tinnitus characteristics, including duration, type of onset, the report of mitigating factors and the use of treatments. However, these differences were partially confirmed after adjusting for age.
Conclusions: Self-reported tinnitus surveys are a low confidence source for tinnitus phenotyping. Additional clinical evaluation is needed for tinnitus research to reach the diagnosis. Age-based cluster analysis might help to better define clinical profiles and to compare responses in ESIT-SQ among subgroups of patients with tinnitus.
Keywords: ESIT screening questionnaire; k-clustering; machine learning; tinnitus.