People with tinnitus, charities and academics have united behind calls to establish a Tinnitus Biobank to find cures for the condition, after new data reveals that 9.3% of people with tinnitus have experienced suicidal or self-harm thoughts in the last two years.

Tinnitus, which affects more than seven million people in the UK, is a hearing condition that causes the perception of noises like ringing or buzzing when there is no external source. People with tinnitus, which is now also a recognised symptom of Covid-19 and long Covid, have likened it to “a high-pitched hiss”, “screaming” or “like a pressure cooker going off.” Projections suggest that the number of tinnitus cases in the UK will grow by half a million over the next decade.

Now, a new report from the British Tinnitus Association, published to mark the start of Tinnitus Week 2022 (Feb 7-13), is making the case for a Tinnitus Biobank to help establish some of the key gaps in knowledge that have occurred due to tinnitus research receiving a staggering 40 times less funding than comparable conditions.

The report, ‘Sound of Science: the urgent need for a Tinnitus Biobank’, which includes new research of 2,600 people with tinnitus, reveals that tinnitus can be a relentless experience, severely affecting some people’s ability to lead a normal life.

  • More than one in three people think about their condition every hour, causing anxiety and sadness
  • A third describe withdrawing from social situations and feeling like their partner and family ‘don’t understand’.

Tinnitus healthcare costs the NHS £750m per year and experts have identified a ‘revolving door’ of patients due to more than eight out of 10 people being dissatisfied with treatment options. The report reveals that, of the people who last saw their GP more than a year ago with their tinnitus, only 2.4% say this is because their treatment worked, 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.

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.”

A Tinnitus Biobank would collate medical, audiological and condition-specific information as well as biological samples, from people with tinnitus. Experts believe it would enable higher-quality and more regular research than is currently possible and have the potential to enable the identification of the underlying causes of tinnitus, recognition of different tinnitus subtypes and 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.

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. Experts believe that if a Tinnitus Biobank enabled the successful identification of a tinnitus biomarker, it could also attract investment from the pharmaceutical industry, due to the estimated market value of a novel tinnitus drug being $689m (£505.5m) in its first year.

Will Sedley, academic clinical lecturer at Newcastle University, is just one of the academics who has spoken about the benefits of a Tinnitus Biobank in the new report. He said: “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.”

Download the report here: ‘Sound of Science: the urgent need for a Tinnitus Biobank’,