Characterizing the most Popular Tinnitus Inquiries: Is Tinnitus Incidence on the Rise Since COVID-19?

Otol Neurotol. 2023 Jul 1;44(6):e435-e442. doi: 10.1097/MAO.0000000000003902. Epub 2023 May 18.

Abstract

Objective: Approximately 50 million US adults experience chronic tinnitus, yet search behaviors and topics of concern to these patients have not been investigated on a national level.

Study design: Observational.

Setting: Online database and tertiary otology clinic.

Patients: Nationwide and institutional samples.

Interventions: None.

Main outcome measure: A search engine optimization tool was utilized to extract metadata on "People Also Ask" (PAA) questions pertaining to tinnitus. Website quality was assessed using JAMA benchmark criteria. Search volume trends were investigated along with institutional-level data on tinnitus incidence.

Results: Of the 500 PAA questions assessed, the majority (54.0%) contained value-type content. The most popular question categories pertained to tinnitus treatment (29.3%), alternative treatment approaches (21.5%), technical details (16.9%), and timeline of symptoms (13.4%). Patients were most interested in treatment with wearable masking devices and most commonly searched for tinnitus as being attributable to a neurologic etiology. Online searches pertaining to unilateral tinnitus symptoms have increased >3-fold since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. Likewise, review of patient encounters at our tertiary otology clinic revealed a nearly 2-fold increase in tinnitus consultations since 2020.

Conclusions: Topics of interest and concern identified herein may inform the development of patient education materials and help guide clinical practice. Online search data suggest an increase in tinnitus searches since the onset of COVID-19, which did correlate clinically with an increase in tinnitus consultations at our institution.

Publication types

  • Observational Study

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • COVID-19*
  • Hearing Aids*
  • Humans
  • Incidence
  • Pandemics
  • Tinnitus* / epidemiology
  • Tinnitus* / therapy