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Biomedical Research Units

Nottingham Researchers Investigate Emotional Key to Tinnitus

Nottingham researchers are testing whether emotions play a part in reducing the suffering of people with tinnitus. Hearing experts from Nottingham University Hospitals NHS Trust and the University of Nottingham are looking into how a range of personal and emotional factors can help to manage symptoms.

Around six million people in the UK are affected by tinnitus, which is usually associated with sounds of ringing and whistling in the ears. This can lead to sleeplessness, anxiety and depression.

The clinical trial in Nottingham explores how mental health, personal beliefs and coping styles relate to any benefit tinnitus patients get from a hearing aid. It also tests whether the intrusiveness of tinnitus is associated with changes in the emotional centres of the brain.

It is being carried out by the National Institute of Health Research (NIHR) Biomedical Research Unit in Hearing at Ropewalk House in Nottingham.

Researcher Derek Hoare said a recent national survey of GPs in England found more than 750,000 GP consultations every year where the primary complaint is tinnitus.

“Despite being so widespread, tinnitus remains poorly understood and there is no uniformly effective treatment. Instead, tinnitus is ‘managed’. Hearing-aid fitting is the most common approach to tinnitus management in the NHS, but our current evidence for whether or not they are effective is not robust. Our clinical trial uses a series of high resolution brain scans to look for changes in brain function that may occur as a result of hearing-aid fitting. The findings from this study will give new insight into whether and how hearing aids have benefit for tinnitus, as well as telling us more about the mechanisms that maintain tinnitus.” – Researcher Derek Hoare

The NIHR Biomedical Research Unit in Hearing is the only BRU funded to explore translational research in hearing. It is the result of unique partnership between NUH, the Medical Research Council Institute of Hearing Research and the University of Nottingham.

Anyone who is affected by tinnitus and would like to take part in the clinical trial can contact the NIHR Biomedical Research Unit in Hearing at Ropewalk House on 0115 823 2630.

Patient case study: Gill

Gill has had tinnitus since March 1988. She came home from work with earache, which worsened during the night until her left ear-drum perforated and she had a fit. Six months of ear-infections followed, which left Gill with tinnitus.

She explained: “I saw a specialist at the local hospital – he said that very little was known about tinnitus – but that it was probably caused by the scar tissue on my ear drum sending different signals to my brain, and I could have it for six weeks, six months or six years.

“23 years later I still have the tinnitus in my left ear. When asked to describe it I talk about the three levels of noise – the first and most dominant noise is a loud high-pitched whistle/buzz, then there is the second level of a whooshing wind-tunnel type noise, and the third level is what I call my ‘Paris metro’ noise as it is a low rumble like the sound of the train going underground as heard from a hotel above. I hear all three sounds constantly.”

Gill retired as a primary school teacher in 2004. Without the hustle and bustle of a busy working day, Gill became even more acutely aware of her tinnitus. Her GP referred her to Nottingham Audiology Services at Ropewalk House in Nottingham, part of Nottingham University Hospitals NHS Trust. She was advised to wear bi-aural hearing aids. Gill also agreed to take part in a clinical trial on tinnitus. This involved another hearing test, a discussion about tinnitus and a series of computer generated tests.

“There were also a lot of questionnaires relating to sounds and how I heard them, my medical situation, my personality, my experience with hearing aids etc,” said Gill. “This session was followed by an MRI scan a few days later. I had 3 clinical trial sessions over a six-month period and found the whole experience very interesting and quite enjoyable. I was more than happy to join the clinical trial because I have always felt that medical research is an essential feature of our health service in that it hopefully leads to an improvement in treatment for us as patients both now and in the future – and also that our health professionals need to have as much up to date knowledge as possible so that the treatment they provide can be as effective as possible.

It is good to know that the NHBRU is providing a worthwhile research facility looking into hearing problems like tinnitus. As our population grows and we all live longer, hearing problems, which tend to escalate as we get older, are going to become an ever increasing issue so I hope that funding continues to be provided as it is undoubtedly the lynch-pin of this valuable research.”

Watch Gill’s interview on the Nuhrise YouTube channel, describing her experiences on the trial:

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