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Canterbury researchers identify need for more support for tinnitus sufferers

16 November 2009

As many as one in seven people will experience tinnitus, or ringing in their ears, at some time of their life, but not enough is being done to support patients who experience this distressing condition, according to research published this month.

Professor Susan Holmes, Director of Research and Development in the Faculty of Health and Social Care at Canterbury Christ Church University and Mr Nigel Padgham, an ear nose and throat consultant from Kent and Canterbury Hospital, researched more than 150 papers published on tinnitus since 1983. Their results, published in November’s Journal of Clinical Nursing, found that nurses – who are often the first people patients turn to – have received very little guidance or information on the condition.

Professor Susan Holmes said: “Despite the fact that it is a very distressing condition and can affect people’s lifestyle and quality of life, around 94 per cent of patients are simply told that nothing can be done to alleviate their condition.

“Tinnitus is a widespread condition that affects millions of people across the world and there is considerable debate about its causes. The condition can be permanent or temporary and acute or chronic; it increases with age and can also occur after bereavement or during stressful periods.

 “We believe that affected patients need considerable support and advice on healthcare options, encouragement to try different treatments and recognition that help and hope are available. Though patients may have to learn to live with tinnitus, the most important thing is that they recognise that help is available.”

Mr Padgham continued: “Although there has been a significant amount of research on tinnitus, most of this has focused on developing a better understanding of the causes and therapy rather than on its impact on patients or ways of helping them to cope with the condition.

“Most patients are told that nothing can be done, making them feel hopeless and enhancing the effect the condition has on them. But steps can be taken to treat or alleviate tinnitus in many cases, including medication, surgery, hearing aids to amplify external sounds and mask the tinnitus or distraction techniques, such as TV and radio.”

The researchers believe that nurses and other healthcare professionals can play a key role in making patients aware of the fact that help is available and providing them with the support they need to live with their condition.

“Telling patients that nothing can be done is not acceptable” concludes Mr Padgham.

“Providing nurses and other health professionals with more information on the condition, and how to manage it, is the first step in that process.”

Notes to Editor

Other key findings of the research review include:

• Tinnitus is the most common injury arising from the conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq
• 75 per cent of 18 to 30 year-olds of who go to nightclubs and concerts may experience temporary tinnitus.
• Ten to 15 per cent of people experience tinnitus at some time in their life, with five per cent of the UK’s 4.7 million sufferers experiencing severe and persistent tinnitus that affects their lifestyle.
• Tinnitus increases with age and hearing impairment and 85% of patients also have hearing loss.
• It is unlikely that tinnitus has a single underlying cause. Many cases relate to ageing and hearing loss, but other causes appear to be damage to the middle ear, cochlea and audiovestibular nerve and cerebral pathways between the cochlear nucleus and primary auditory cortex.
• Temporary or permanent tinnitus may be due to ototoxic medications, such as certain antibiotics and antimalarial drugs, cancer chemotherapy drugs, non-steroidal anti-inflammatory agents and diuretics; over 130 drugs can cause tinnitus
• In most cases the onset is gradual and not attributable to any specific event. It can arise in the absence of any hearing problems.
• Various studies show that 62 per cent of tinnitus sufferers have a “lifetime prevalence of major depression”, 63 per cent display “defined psychiatric disturbance” and 62 per cent have “signs of lifetime depression”.

Canterbury Christ Church University
Canterbury Christ Church University has, since its foundation by the Church of England as a teacher training college in 1962, developed a wide range of taught programmes, research and educational services.  It continues to be the largest centre of higher education in Kent for the major public services.
The University now has over 15,500 students based in five Faculties: Arts and Humanities, Business and Management, Education, Health and Social Care, Social and Applied Sciences.  Our 1,500 staff contribute to the University’s work at our five campuses: Canterbury, Broadstairs, Folkestone (in partnership with the Creative Foundation and the University of Greenwich), Medway (in partnership with the Universities of Greenwich and Kent with Mid-Kent College) and Tunbridge Wells.  In so doing we seek to sustain the University’s Mission:

‘Inspired by the University’s Church of England Foundation and the aspirations of its students and staff, our mission is to pursue excellence in academic and professional higher education thereby enriching both individuals and society.’


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