Anxiety is a common trigger of tinnitus. Obviously, the pandemic has caused many people to feel more anxious. COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus, itself can cause long-term tinnitus, or exacerbate the condition, which is characterized by phantom noises such as ringing, buzzing, humming, etc.
A research article from the UK, published in The Hearing Journal says that in the wake of the pandemic, more psychologists and other secondary care specialists are needed alongside a new standardized treatment model if a “tinnitus timebomb” is to be avoided.
According to the British Tinnitus Association (BTA), the findings are based on the Association’s’ “This Is My Silence” report, which surveyed more than 2,000 people with tinnitus. The survey was compiled in consultation with healthcare professionals across a range of disciplines.
The report says that there’s been a 22% drop in the number of tinnitus patients referred to a specialist since March 2020, despite a climb in cases. An appointment with a hearing specialist, such as an audiologist or otolaryngologist (ear, nose, throat doctor), is almost twice as likely to reduce feelings of stress associated with tinnitus than an appointment with a general practitioner (GP), the report adds.
Even before the pandemic, there was already “a perilous lack of capacity in specialist tinnitus services,” says the BTA’s report. Consequently, even if a family physician wants to refer a tinnitus patient, it’s difficult to do so. In fact, the report claims that one in three GP urgent referrals to a specialist have been rejected.
In order to improve tinnitus patients’ outcomes, the BTA recommends three action items:
- Commissioners to invest in proven secondary tinnitus services so that GPs have somewhere to send patients without subjecting them to unacceptably long waiting times.
- Introduce a standardized nationwide management model so that all patients get the same support for tinnitus no matter where they live or who they see.
- Elevate tinnitus within the education agenda by making it an assessed subject in medical exams.
One In Six Tinnitus Sufferers Have Harbored Suicidal Thoughts
The Hearing Journal says the need for high quality secondary care for people with tinnitus is highlighted by the survey, which reveals the following challenges to their mental well-being:
- One in six people with tinnitus have had suicidal thoughts as a result of their condition
- 45% experienced depression
- 71% reported anxiety
- Nearly 70% reported sleep deprivation
- 72% experienced difficulty concentrating
- Nearly 40% reported feelings of isolation
In March 2020, tinnitus guidelines were published by the UK’s National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE), which is sponsored by the Department of Health and Social Care. NICE provides national guidance and advice to improve health and social care.
Although, data suggests that there’s been some improvements in the quality of GP tinnitus appointments since the NICE Tinnitus Guidelines were introduced, less than half of GPs are currently following the recommendations, according to the report.
“Experts are concerned that the pressure of the Covid-19 pandemic has reduced healthcare professionals’ engagement with the guidance and the availability of secondary care specialists,” says The Hearing Journal.
“The long-awaited new NICE guidance promised a great deal but the unfortunate timing of its publication – coming less than two weeks before the first national lockdown for Covid-19 – will have significantly diluted its impact,” says David Stockdale, Chief Executive of the British Tinnitus Association, per The Hearing Journal website.
Stockdale adds, “That’s why these calls, which have been developed in consultation with healthcare professionals from a range of relevant disciplines, are so important. The mental health and quality of life impacts of tinnitus are just too great to ignore.”