Tinnitus drives some to suicidal thoughts, warns top UK charity calling for better research and a biobank for the condition


Tinnitus Week 2022

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A report from the British Tinnitus Association (BTA) suggests that 9.3% of people with tinnitus have experienced suicidal or self-harm thoughts in the last two years.

Led by the BTA, charities and academics are calling for the establishment of a Tinnitus Biobank to find cures for the condition.

Sadness and social withdrawal

The report - ‘Sound of Science: the urgent need for a Tinnitus Biobank’ - was published to mark the start of Tinnitus Week 2022 (Feb 7-13), includes new research of 2,600 people with tinnitus, revealing that the condition can be a relentless experience, severely affecting some people’s ability to lead a normal life.

It contains data to suggest that more than one in three people think about their condition every hour, causing anxiety and sadness, while a third describe withdrawing from social situations and feeling like their partner and family don’t understand, explains the BTA.

The charity points out that tinnitus research currently receives a staggering 40 times less funding than comparable conditions. A tinnitus biobank would collate medical, audiological, and condition-specific information - including biological samples - from people with tinnitus. The higher-quality and more regular research this would mean could have the potential to enable identification of the underlying causes of tinnitus and recognition of different tinnitus subtypes,

Such a biobank could uncover the biomarkers that would enable tinnitus, and the impact of treatments, to be objectively measured. It could also attract promising young academics to dedicate their career to researching tinnitus.  

Tinnitus biobank cost effectiveness

Tinnitus healthcare costs the NHS £750m per year, argues the BTA, pointing out that experts say more than eight out of 10 people are dissatisfied with treatment options. The new report details that only 2.4% of the people who last saw their GP for tinnitus more than a year ago did so because of successful treatment, while 46% say "there doesn’t seem to be any point".

While the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) introduced new guidance last year to improve the assessment, investigation and management of tinnitus, only 1.82% say this has had a positive impact on their condition, the report highlights.

The first year market value of a novel tinnitus drug is estimated to be $689m (£505.5m)

Establishing a Tinnitus Biobank would require just 0.53% of the annual cost of treating tinnitus (£4m) and is supported by 98.77% of people with tinnitus, as well as the research community. And the BTA claim the support of experts behind the opinion that a tinnitus biobank could enable the successful identification of a tinnitus biomarker, thus attracting investment from the pharmaceutical industry. The estimated year one market value of a novel tinnitus drug is estimated to be $689m (£505.5m), the charity affirms.  

The new report publishes the opinions of several academics, among them academic clinical lecturer at Newcastle University, Will Sedley, who maintains: “A tinnitus biobank would have detailed and rigorous tinnitus data from very large numbers of people. It could therefore move the field forwards in ways that have not been possible so far, for instance in pinning down underlying mechanisms, and identifying distinct subtypes which may have different causes, impacts, prognoses and treatment responses.”

David Stockdale, Chief Executive of the British Tinnitus Association (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. We know that developing cures for any condition takes time and so we need to move quickly to find a route forward for tinnitus research. We believe that a tinnitus biobank represents the most effective and most cost-effective route forward.” 

Source: British Tinnitus Association