If you constantly suffer a ringing noise in your ears and no one else can hear it, you probably have tinnitus – a problem on the increase among Kiwis.
About 207,000 New Zealanders suffer tinnitus and it is most common among elderly men, according to new research published by Auckland University.
The study is the first of its kind done on a national scale, seeking to better understand how tinnitus affects the population.
Sufferers of the problem hear a ringing noise in the head or ears in the absence of an external real sound.
It is commonly associated with hearing loss, but appears to be the result of a cascade of neuroplastic events in auditory pathways and central networks, researcher Dr Grant Searchfield said.
The effects can vary from slight annoyance to disruption of a person's life.
The study revealed men were more likely to suffer tinnitus than woman, with men aged 65 and older the most-affected group, at 14.28 percent.
The difference between genders was most noticeable in young people, with males between 14 and 24 years old 55 percent more likely to report tinnitus than females.
"Tinnitus, along with hearing loss, will increase among the New Zealand population in the next 50 years," said Dr Searchfield.
Although researchers could not obtain a full socio-economic and ethnic profile of tinnitus sufferers, the study showed Pacific people were most likely to report tinnitus in the older age group.
Asian males were 32 percent more likely to report the problem than Asian females.
The study was published in the New Zealand Medical Journal today.
Researchers interviewed almost 70,000 people aged over 14 years between 2007 and 2013.