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Cures Needed for Hearing Condition Linked with Suicidal Thoughts, Politicians Urge

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MPs from the UK’s three biggest political parties have joined a leading charity to call for more funding for research into cures for tinnitus - a common condition that causes the perception of noise in the ear/head - after new research showed the huge strain it places on mental health.

Tinnitus affects one in eight adults in the UK (7.1m) and this is estimated to increase to 7.7m by 2028. 

The ‘Time to Listen’ research, published in Tinnitus Week by leading charity, the British Tinnitus Association (BTA), reveals that one in five people with tinnitus think about it “every few minutes”, it can be as loud as a jet engine, whistling kettle or dentist’s drill and, for one in seven (15%), it can lead to suicidal thoughts. 

The MPs - Sir John Hayes (Conservative), Lilian Greenwood (Labour) and Tommy Sheppard (SNP) - agreed to work together following the BTA’s recent Tinnitus Roundtable event at the House of Commons in January 2020, where they met with leading academics, research-funders, clinicians and people with tinnitus to agree the way forward for curing the condition. 

Studies show that tinnitus research receives a staggering 40 times less funding than conditions like depression, anxiety and hearing loss, although the impact on the individual is comparable - and one researcher at the roundtable reported that they received just £30,000 over four years for their tinnitus study. 

The Time to Listen survey of 1,620 people with tinnitus revealed that many with the condition experience low mood and sadness (57%) and avoid contact with friends, taking part in fewer social activities (42%). A third say that their condition is often trivialised by their partner, family, friends, work colleagues and health professionals, and more than eight out of 10 are dissatisfied with the current treatment options. 

One in four (28%), say that a cure for tinnitus would “completely change” their life and 98% say it would make their life better.

Marking the launch of Tinnitus Week 2020 (3rd to 9th February), the BTA has produced ‘The Tinnitus Manifesto’, which calls for:

  • 1% of the health service cost of treating tinnitus to be spent on research to find cures - a total of £7.5m per year to be dedicated to research
  • An improved academic infrastructure to be put in place to enable better quality research and a higher volume of studies, building on the work of the committed research community
  • A focus on studies that will help establish the key foundational knowledge for tinnitus research, and enable the community to move forward to find cures

David Stockdale, Chief Executive of the British Tinnitus Association, an independent charity and the primary source of information for people with tinnitus, said: “It is a travesty that tinnitus - with its huge mental health impact - receives 40 times less funding than comparable conditions. 

“Yet our committed research community has made great strides in recent years to bring us to the edge of major progress. We need to seize this opportunity by making the investment needed to grow the field and make the huge leaps forward that are so important to people with tinnitus.

“These calls, made at the start of Tinnitus Week, are informed by discussions with researchers, funders, clinicians and people with tinnitus and they are supported by politicians from across the political spectrum. It’s time for the Government to listen up and invest in tinnitus to help improve mental health and quality of life for millions of people.”

Sir John Hayes, Conservative MP for South Holland and the Deepings, who urged the Secretary of State for Health to commit more funding to tinnitus research following the Tinnitus Roundtable event, which he hosted, said: “I’ve had tinnitus since suffering a serious head injury in my 20s. It can have a huge impact on people’s lives and yet the underfunding of research has left big gaps in scientific knowledge. I am urging the Health and Social Care Secretary to commit more funding to this important cause and working alongside other MPs like Lilian and Tommy to make that happen.”

Lilian Greenwood, MP for Nottingham South and Vice-Chair of the APPG on Deafness in the last Parliament said: “It’s staggering that a condition affecting more than seven million people in the UK - and that can have such a big impact on mental health and quality of life - has been so neglected. Tinnitus affects wellbeing, relationships and careers and yet we still know so little about it. It’s vital that as politicians we work together to secure the funding and infrastructure changes needed to progress towards finding a cure.”

Tommy Sheppard, SNP MP for Edinburgh East, added: “I’m delighted to be supporting these calls to Government. Tinnitus has a huge impact on mental health and it’s time we invested in finding a cure.”

Case study

Claire Eveleigh, 34, is a mum-of-two from New Milton near Bournemouth and has had tinnitus since July 2019. See Claire’s video here.

“It came on suddenly after a rare night out where I’d listened to loud music. It was a low droning noise which I could also feel. I went to see my GP and was told it wasn’t anything to worry about and would pass in a couple of weeks.

“It carried on. I went back to my GP several times and was eventually diagnosed with tinnitus, and referred to an ear, nose and throat (ENT) specialist and a tinnitus clinic. None of it was much help really and people were quite dismissive. 

“I started having suicidal thoughts. I was very scared and thought my two young children would be better off without me. I couldn’t focus on them; I was too preoccupied with listening to these horrible sounds. I was prescribed antidepressants. 

“I went to a support group which I found through the British Tinnitus Association, and realised that people have struggled and come out on the other side. Now I do yoga and mindful meditation to help overcome the anxiety, although I still have my bad days. I live for my children and spend a lot of time outside with them. They are my main distraction and my family is really supportive.

“I remember before I had tinnitus I would never have given it a thought and yet now it is often all I can think about. It’s difficult to accept that I’ll have these noises in my head for the rest of my life. You can’t escape it, it’s with you everywhere you go, all day long. This is why more funding into tinnitus research is vital, as currently there just aren’t enough options for people like me.”

See Claire's full story, along with the story of a second case study, Steve Harrison, in the attached 'case studies' document.

Sign the petition to commit more funding to tinnitus research at Change.org here.

If you would like advice on living with tinnitus visit the website of the British Tinnitus Association at www.tinnitus.org.uk or call their helpline on 0800 018 0527.

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