New trial to investigate how tinnitus can affect concentration

Hearing experts are calling for volunteers to take part in new research to investigate how tinnitus - often referred to as ringing in the ears - can affect the cognitive wellbeing of people who experience it, and their ability to concentrate.

Tinnitus is a common hearing-related problem that affects up to 10% of the population. The sensation of noise that people hear is not a real sound in the environment but is often perceived as a ringing, humming, buzzing or even whooshing sound that, in some people, can be very distressing.

Recent research suggests that the problem can affect concentration and people with tinnitus may perform differently on computer-based puzzles that measure different types of cognition. Now University of Nottingham experts at the School of Medicine and NIHR Nottingham Biomedical Research Centre (BRC) want to find out which types of cognition may be different in people with tinnitus compared to people without tinnitus.

The researchers need to recruit 144 people to take part in computer-based puzzles that test concentration, clear thinking and ability to multi-task. The volunteers will be split into three groups - those with severe or bothersome tinnitus, those who have tinnitus but are not bothered by it, and those who do not have tinnitus.

Associate Professor in Hearing Sciences, Dr Derek Hoare, said: “Difficulty concentrating is commonly reported by those who have tinnitus. Many previous studies suggest that tinnitus is associated with changes in the organisation and function of different brain areas, including those required for different types of attention and task performance, so there may be a direct consequence of having tinnitus. However, there may also be indirect effects that we need to consider. Tinnitus is strongly associated with depression and anxiety, and these too can independently lead to difficulties concentrating."

Nathan Clarke, doctoral researcher on the project, added: “Executive functions are key to our ability to concentrate. New evidence suggests that they may be a particularly important feature in experiencing bothersome tinnitus. Improving our understanding of differences in these functions between people with and without bothersome tinnitus may lead to new insights, inspiring targeted interventions for the many people who experience bothersome tinnitus.”

The volunteers will be asked to fill in questionnaires concerning concentration and related issues and complete a number of attention and memory puzzles. They will also have their hearing tested to make sure they meet the inclusion criteria for one of the three groups in the study. Other criteria are to speak fluent English, be aged 18 to 80 years old, have no more than slight hearing loss, have normal or corrected to normal vision and not on any medication that causes concentration difficulties.

To take part in the trial participants who are accepted will be asked to attend a single visit at the BRC Hearing Unit offices at Ropewalk House in Nottingham or University Park campus which will take between 2.5 and 3.5 hours.

The study, Investigation of executive functioning in adults with and without tinnitus,is funded by the Medical Research Council (MRC) and NIHR Nottingham Biomedical Research Centre.