Tinnitus: How a biobank would be ‘life-changing’ for those living with the ear condition

Tinnitus: Dr Philippa Kaye discusses common symptoms

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As part of National Tinnitus Awareness Week, one British charity is advocating for the Government to help support the creation of a tinnitus biobank. More than seven million people across the UK are affected by tinnitus, with knowledge of the condition and how to treat it currently limited. So, how could a biobank help increase our understanding of tinnitus? Could it lead to a cure?

What is tinnitus?

Tinnitus is defined as hearing a sound where there is no external source – nothing or no-one is making the noise which a person says they can hear.

A ringing, whooshing, humming or buzzing sound, which can be continuous or come and go, are all potential signs of the condition.

One out of every eight people are diagnosed with tinnitus.

Current treatments for the condition are restricted, with Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) viewed as the most effective method.

Although further research has been dedicated to learning more about tinnitus, there is still no available cure.

The British Tinnitus Association (BTA) has proposed the idea of setting up a tinnitus biobank.

A biobank is defined as “an organised collection of human biological material and associated information stored for one or more research purposes ̋.

In fact, tinnitus researchers believe that a condition-specific tinnitus biobank would deliver a step-change by enabling speedy progress in diagnostics, treatments and mechanisms, paving the way for a novel tinnitus drug.

The Chief Executive of the BTA, David Stockdale, believes a biobank “would make a fundamental difference to our knowledge of tinnitus”.

Speaking to Express.co.uk he said: “The aim of a tinnitus biobank is to really have that deep dive into the condition and get high quality data and information on things like hearing loss and a person’s history of how they’ve experienced tinnitus.

“In a database we can really try to understand and investigate what the differences are [tinnitus sub-types] and once we understand those we really have opportunities to develop better ways of targeting tinnitus both in terms of management but also hopefully with a cure.”

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The BTA has costed the establishment of a tinnitus biobank at £4 million, which is 0.53 percent of the £750 million that the health service spends every year treating people with the condition.

They also believe that several thousand people, who live with tinnitus, would need to participate in the biobank for it to be a viable success.

Asked for a time-frame on when a biobank could begin to deliver results, Mr Stockdale said he would “certainly be hopeful that once the biobank is collecting data” that we would see outputs “within three to five years”.

He added: “Ultimately, the big aim is to try and find some sort of objective measure or biomarker of tinnitus, and then those types of outcomes could be used to drive research from biocentres to find cures.”

What are the key symptoms of tinnitus?

The following have been listed by the NHS as sounds which could indicate tinnitus:

  • Ringing
  • Buzzing
  • Whooshing
  • Humming
  • Hissing
  • Throbbing
  • Music or singing

Patients might be able to hear these sounds in one or both ears, or in the head.

What are the causes of tinnitus?

The following could all result in an individual developing tinnitus:

  • Some form of hearing loss
  • Ménière’s disease
  • Conditions such as diabetes, thyroid disorders or multiple sclerosis
  • Anxiety or depression
  • Taking certain medicines – tinnitus can be a side effect of some chemotherapy medicines, antibiotics, non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) and aspirin
  • Ear related injury
  • Exposure to loud sounds
  • Blockages to the ear / build-up of earwax

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