Calls for Tinnitus Biobank as sufferers tell of distress from hearing condition

·4-min read
More than one in three people surveyed with tinnitus think about their condition (PA)every hour, causing anxiety and sadness (Edward Smith/PA)
More than one in three people surveyed with tinnitus think about their condition (PA)every hour, causing anxiety and sadness (Edward Smith/PA)

Tinnitus sufferers are calling for renewed efforts to research and find cures for the hearing condition, as a survey suggested almost one in 10 people living with it have experienced suicidal ideation or thoughts of self-harm in the past two years.

The condition, which causes the perception of noises like ringing or buzzing, is estimated to affect more than seven million adults in the UK – a number projected to grow by half a million over the next decade.

A new report by the British Tinnitus Association (BTA) said there is an “urgent” need for a Tinnitus Biobank, which would gather medical, audiological and condition-specific information as well as biological samples from sufferers.

This report demonstrates that, over the last two years, tinnitus has continued to have an enormous impact on mental health and quality of life for many people.

David Stockdale, chief executive of the BTA

Experts suggest this could have the potential to help with the identification of the underlying causes of the condition, as well as with recognising different types of tinnitus and uncovering the biomarkers that enable it to develop, as well as measuring the impact of treatments.

The BTA surveyed 2,600 people with tinnitus in November 2021 to gauge their experience and found that 9.3% had suicidal thoughts or thoughts of self-harm in the last two years, while more than one in three thought about their condition every hour, causing anxiety and sadness.

A majority said they feel research-funders (85%), Government (63%) and pharmaceutical companies (59%) should be doing more to develop cures, while 40% said they did not return to their GP after a tinnitus consultation because they did not think there was any point.

The BTA’s The Sound of Science report, published to mark the start of Tinnitus Week on Monday, said the establishment of a biobank could “deliver a step-change in the race to find tinnitus cures”.

The organisation said starting such a biobank would require £4 million of investment, a figure it said is equivalent to just 0.53% of the £750 million it costs the NHS each year to treat tinnitus.

David Stockdale, chief executive of the BTA, said: “This report demonstrates that, over the last two years, tinnitus has continued to have an enormous impact on mental health and quality of life for many people.

“Yet we are still in a position where tinnitus research receives 40 times less funding than comparable conditions (such as depression, anxiety and hearing loss). We know that developing cures for any condition takes time and so we need to make headway in tinnitus research. We believe that a Tinnitus Biobank represents the most effective and most cost-effective route forward.”

The charity said it hoped the biobank would attract promising young academics to “dedicate their career to researching tinnitus”, as well as investment from the pharmaceutical industry, estimating that the market value of a new tinnitus drug would be more than £500 million in its first year alone.

Tinnitus sufferers backed the call for a biobank, saying there is a need for more treatment options for people.

Kirsty Stewart said the effects of tinnitus took her to “rock bottom” (Kirsty Stewart /PA)
Kirsty Stewart said the effects of tinnitus took her to “rock bottom” (Kirsty Stewart /PA)

Darren Batsford, 47, from Essex developed the condition suddenly in the night.

He said: “It’s shocking just how many people suffer from tinnitus and are told to ‘just live with it’. We need to talk about the condition more, and find more treatment options. I’d be incredibly supportive of a Tinnitus Biobank.”

Kirsty Stewart, 31, from Hampshire began suffering from the condition after a traumatic time in her life and said the effects took her to “rock bottom”.

She said: “I carried on with life but I was really struggling. I tried to work but couldn’t – even the sounds of the computer fans in the office bothered me. I couldn’t tell what noises were real and what was in my head.

“My stress and tinnitus became a toxic cycle where my tinnitus made me feel stressed and my stress made the tinnitus worse.”

With the help of a psychotherapist and a reflexologist, she said things have improved, but called for more action to address the condition and its effects.

She said: “It’s shocking that tinnitus receives so little attention and that more money isn’t being invested into research. We need more treatment options. I wouldn’t want anyone to feel like I did.”

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