Tinnitus, a well-known phenomenon but still without treatment

Tinnitus, a well-known phenomenon but still without treatment

“Like the sound of a poorly tuned radio permanently in your ear.” Like more than one in ten people, Roselyne Nicolas is a victim of tinnitus, a well-known phenomenon but still without treatment to this day.

Hissing, buzzing, hissing… these noises, which do not come from the outside world, can be heard in one ear or in both, continuously or intermittently, transiently or persistently.

According to various studies, some 14% of adults of all ages worldwide are affected by tinnitus. Although not serious, this phenomenon is nevertheless considered very disabling in 1 to 2% of cases.

It is very unpleasant, makes it difficult to understand and can disrupt sleep.“, testifies Roselyne Nicolas, 77 years old, vice-president of the Europe Acouphènes association.

In his case, the tinnitus developed as a result of a benign tumor on the auditory nerve 20 years ago, which left him with hearing loss.

They most often result from ear pathologies (perforated eardrums, infections, etc.) or prolonged exposure to intense noise.

Because, faced with hearing loss, the auditory cortex sets up compensation mechanisms: sounds that do not exist – phantom sounds – but are perceived as such by the central nervous system, without external acoustic stimulation.

The impact of tinnitus varies greatly from one individual to another: from simple annoyance, it can hamper daily life by causing stress, irritability, anxiety, etc.

We are campaigning for the recognition of this pathology, which is not an illness in itself but which causes symptoms likely to cause real illnesses such as depression.“, explains Roselyne Nicolas.

“Double penalty”

A study published Thursday by the National Hearing Day (JNA) and Europe Acouphène associations shows that the first consultation by a health professional occurs on average late, 6/7 years after the first symptoms.

Although many people consult for tinnitus, there is no curative treatment to date.

Treatment most often consists of fitting a hearing aid, a device that allows better tolerance of tinnitus.

The installation of prostheses emitting a moderate but permanent background noise, called white noise, can also help to mask tinnitus and relieve daily discomfort.

According to the study published Thursday, the 1,563 people affected by tinnitus who responded to a questionnaire between October 2023 and February 2024 estimate their average out-of-pocket cost at 1,079.85 euros per year.

The associations thus point to a “double penalty”: physical and moral suffering but also economic.

Among the respondents, 11.4% also had to change jobs or workstations.

Medical research continues to improve understanding and therefore management of the problem.

The “Audicog” project led by Professor Séverine Samson (University of Lille), Dr Alain Londero and their team at the AP-HP (European Georges Pompidou and Pitié Salpêtrière Hospital) and at the Brain Institute, with the support of the Hearing Foundation, has just delivered its first results.

The study was carried out on 300 people, aged 18 to 60, men and women, including 150 suffering from tinnitus (the others serving as controls).

Exhaustive tests of attention, memory and cognition were carried out, complemented by brain imaging studies.“, explains Dr. Samson.

These tests revealed “attention disorders” in people suffering from tinnitus, i.e. less alertness to warning signals, summarizes Alain Londero.

Another major result: an altered relationship with music, with participants suffering from tinnitus finding listening to musical extracts unpleasant.

For doctors, these discoveries encourage us to consider the cognitive and socio-emotional aspects when treating tinnitus, beyond just the auditory sphere.

This opens the door to rehabilitation techniques, targeted at the identified dysfunction, such as music therapy.“, the illustrious Alain Londoner.