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Health: Tinnitus

Volume 801: debated on Wednesday 5 February 2020


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what assessment they have made of the impact of tinnitus on the mental health of those affected.

My Lords, we recognise the debilitating impact that tinnitus can have on people’s lives and that for some the condition can lead to mental ill-health, including suicidal thoughts. That is why we have commissioned NICE to develop clinical guidance on the assessment and management of tinnitus. This is expected to be published in March and will help raise much-needed understanding about the condition.

My Lords, I thank the Minister for that Answer. Given that this condition causes enormous misery and is, we are told, incurable, and given that research has shown recently what a detrimental effect it can have on the mental health of sufferers, I have two questions for the Minister. I am very happy if she needs to write to me with the answers. First, how much is the NHS spending on research into the causes and cures of tinnitus? Secondly, if there are cures—if you google tinnitus, you will see that many products out there on social media claim to cure it—have any of these been approved? Are they in the system for approval? If so, when will they be available on prescription?

I am happy to pay tribute to the British Tinnitus Association, which has raised the issues this week—it is Tinnitus Week—for its research. I thank the noble Baroness for her question. I will be happy to write to her on the specifics of the tinnitus treatments. Of course, tinnitus is often linked with acoustic neuroma, hearing loss and a number of other conditions, including mental ill-health. There are some treatable causes, which GPs look for, but there can be others related to mental ill-health. The cause of tinnitus is unknown; it cannot be treated. Talking therapy will be prescribed, and a lot of those treatments are already available on the NHS and on prescription. I am happy to send that information to the noble Baroness in writing.

There is obviously research available via the NIHR. We spend more than £90 million on NIHR research, and £15 million of this is spent via biomedical research centres at Manchester, UCL and Nottingham. Nottingham undertakes specific research into deafness and hearing problems, including tinnitus and hyperacusis. If the noble Baroness would like further detail, I am happy to write.

My Lords, does the Minister endorse the views of many researchers, some of whom she has just mentioned, in their warning that listening to loud music—for example, in amplification, in front of speakers at rock concerts or in ear buds—could be an explosion waiting to happen in future generations? Secondly—this may apply to some noble Lords not yet afflicted—any slight loss of hearing should be dealt with sooner rather than later, because that research has also discovered that if you do not do something about it, it can possibly lead to dementia.

The noble Lord is absolutely right that contact should be made with a GP regarding hearing loss as soon as possible, that links between hearing loss and dementia have been found and that it is extremely important that we increase research in this area. That is exactly why I have asked officials to get together a round table regarding hearing loss and dementia to drive up research in this area as soon as possible.

My Lords, one in 30 children suffers from tinnitus. That is one child in every average-sized class, so there are a number of such children in every school. These children often say that their tinnitus sounds like a rushing train. They find it difficult to concentrate in school and often end up with problems. Some of these children will require mental health support. Can the Minister say what the current waiting time is for a CAMHS appointment for a child or young person suffering from life-changing tinnitus? It is a chronic condition. There is already a problem with the waiting list for children and young people with acute and life-threatening conditions, but what is the waiting time for these children to get in front of a doctor?

We are working hard to bring down waiting times across mental health, and the noble Baroness will know that we are bringing in waiting time standards. On mental health provision for those with tinnitus, she will know that we are working to bring in improved access to psychological therapies. Ninety-five per cent of those accessing such treatments and therapies are doing so within the time available. The most important issue is making sure that those therapies are available in an accessible way. Local commissioners have to pay due regard to equality legislation and make sure they provide those services either through BSL-trained therapists or interpreters locally, if necessary.

My Lords, having suffered from tinnitus for some 30 years, I do not share the Minister’s enthusiasm for reminding people that they have it. The most effective survival technique is learning to ignore it. Mine is a mild case. If fellow sufferers turn their mind away from it regularly and as hard as they can at the beginning, it tends to become less of a curse. As to whether it affects one’s mental abilities, I leave your Lordships to form your own conclusions.

My noble friend has put it rather accurately. As he said, a lot of the talking therapies available for tinnitus, which has no known cause, are ways of coping with it, some of which have proven effective. On research, we need a better understanding of causes so that we can provide better treatments for a condition that, for some, can be pervasive, pernicious and hard to ignore.