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ENT 2021

Improving care to tackle tinnitus timebomb

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David Stockdale

Chief Executive, British Tinnitus Association

Nic Wray

Communications Manager, British Tinnitus Association

Tinnitus can have a significant impact on a patient’s quality of life. New research is vital to helping find new solutions to treat the condition.

Tinnitus – the sensation of hearing sounds with no external source – can be very distressing to live with. An estimated one in eight adults experience persistent tinnitus. There is no cure, and many people find existing treatments and services unsatisfactory.

Why is there no cure?

A recent paper1 identified a series of obstacles in developing a cure for tinnitus, including a lack of foundational knowledge of tinnitus and its causes. It also highlighted a significant lack of funding and research capacity.

An estimated one in eight adults experience persistent tinnitus.

Giving hope for a cure

In 2020 we were able to invest in two important projects looking to improve our understanding of tinnitus. However, we could not fund all submitted proposals. Change is urgently needed.

Our Tinnitus Manifesto makes three calls the Government must take to give people with tinnitus hope for a cure:

  • Increase funding for tinnitus research to 1% of the budget for treating tinnitus – an investment of £7.5m per year.
  • Build long-term infrastructure to ensure the capacity to deliver real progress.
  • Prioritise studies that will help establish the key foundational knowledge for tinnitus so researchers can move forward to find cures.

Despite current challenges, we are continuing to demand progress.

The effect of COVID-19

It quickly became apparent that tinnitus was entwined with the COVID-19 pandemic. Results from an international study,2 supported by the BTA, found that lifestyle changes during the pandemic made tinnitus worse for 46% of people in the UK, and that four in 10 people who had experienced COVID-19 symptoms found their tinnitus more bothersome.

Tinnitus has also been identified as a symptom of long COVID,3 raising the number of people experiencing the condition and requiring support.

Lifestyle changes during the pandemic made tinnitus worse for 46% of people in the UK.

A tinnitus timebomb?

The climb in cases and increased distress people are experiencing reinforces the findings of our new report, This Is My Silence, which exposes the mental health challenges of living with tinnitus.

One in six people (16%) with tinnitus have had suicidal thoughts because of their condition, 71% report having anxiety, and nearly half (45%) experience depression.

The study showed that specialist support is nearly twice as likely to reduce feelings of stress around tinnitus than a GP appointment. However, there is a perilous lack of capacity in secondary tinnitus services. The NHS needs improved training for GPs and high-quality secondary care for people with tinnitus alongside a new standardised treatment model if it is to avoid a “tinnitus timebomb”.

The mental health and quality of life impacts of tinnitus are just too great to ignore.

British Tinnitus Association

Helpline: 0800 018 0527

[1] McFerran DJ, Stockdale D, Holme R, Large CH, Baguley DM. Why is there no cure for tinnitus? (2019) Frontiers in Neuroscience. | [2] Beukes EW, Baguley DM, Jacquemin L, Lourenco MPCG, Allen PM, Onozuka J, Stockdale D, Kaldo V, Andersson G and Manchaiah V (2020). Changes in tinnitus experiences during the Covid-19 pandemic. Frontiers in Public Health doi: 10.3389/fpubh.2020.592878 | [3] National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (2020) COVID-19 rapid guideline: managing the long-term effects of COVID-19. [online]

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