‘I never went anywhere without ear plugs. My social life stopped’

Sheffield is trialling a new drug which could help people who suffer from tinnitus. Jennifer Sonley has suffered the condition for 14 years. Catherine Scott reports.

Jennifer Sonley has suffered with tinnitus for 14 years

Jennifer Sonley often wonder what life would have been like without tinnitus.

The 39-year-old from Harrogate developed the condition which causes a constant buzzing or ringing in the ears, 14 years ago.

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“I went to see a band playing in a pub for a friend’s birthday and I was standing quite close to a speaker,” explains Jennifer.

“It never occurred to me that it cause me any damage. I left the pub with ringing in my ear and did think ‘that was a good night’ but then when I woke up in the morning it was still there, and I have had it ever since.”

Jennifer is one of six million people suffering from tinnitus. For many it is a mild irritation they learn to live with, but for some, like Jennifer, it can change their lives.

“I became a changed person. I had always been a confident person but I started to become really anxious and stressed. My social life almost stopped because I was certain if I went anywhere loud it would make the tinnitus worse. I never went anywhere without ear plugs, which I now know is the wrong thing to do,” says the mum of two boys.

“I nearly didn’t go on the trip where my husband proposed because I was worried that going on plane would make it worse.”

Bringing up two boisterous boys , Riley 11 and Finn, seven, has also been a challenge.

“I spend my whole life avoiding situations where I know there will be a lot of noise. When the boys were little I would make sure that when we visited things like a playground or a soft play centre it would be when it wasn’t busy so the noise wasn’t as mad.

“There isn’t a day goes by when I don’t worry about it. It dictates how I plan my day. It is so against my natural character. I often wonder what life would have been like without tinnitus. My husband is so understanding, but it must be difficult to be my friend as I get so anxious at the thought of going out that I change my plans a lot.”

Jennifer says for the majority of the time she has learnt to live with the constant noise, but sometimes noise “spikes” and becomes unbearable.

“Two years ago I was going through a pretty stressful time and the tinnitus really flared up and I just couldn’t deal with it.”
She has been to her GP many times, but the overwhelming response is that she needs to learn to live with it.

“That is a really difficult thing to come to terms with,” she says.

She has seen specialists in the past but they have offered her very little help. After one particularly bad episode in desperation Jennifer contacted the Sheffield-based British Tinnitus Association pleading for help. “They told me that there was an ENT department at Harrogate Hospital which is near where I live. They suggested that CBT (Cognitive Behavioural Therapy ) might help, but they didn’t do it.

“I went to the GP and asked them to refer me, but I had to fill out a form which made me really uncomfortable, it made it sound that if I wasn’t suicidal they wouldn’t refer me.”

In the end Jennifer paid to go privately and is finding the sessions helpful. She is also finding yoga and meditation helps her deal with he symptoms.

Up until now there has been very little else available for sufferers of tinnitus like Jennifer.

But now a drug trial, involving Sheffield hospitals, could change all that.

Professor Jaydip Ray, Consultant Ear, Nose and Throat (ENT) surgeon at Sheffield Teaching Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, is the national Coordinating Investigator of the QUIET-1 study (QUest In Eliminating Tinnitus) study, which aims to analyse the potential of a new drug, AUT00063, in reducing the symptoms of tinnitus in people who have had the condition for at least six months.

The trial is being run by Autifony Therapeutics Ltd at 12 key hospital sites across the UK, including the National Institute for Health Research Sheffield at the Royal Hallamshire and Northern General Hospitals.

During the trial patients will receive the AUT00063 drug for four weeks, with the impact on their tinnitus assessed at the end. The trial will mainly focus on people whose tinnitus may be associated with hearing loss due to noise exposure or ageing.

“Tinnitus is a common condition which affects over 10 per cent of the population, although many cope well with the symptoms,” explains Prof Ray. “However, for up to one per cent of the population, it brings considerable suffering. This is a very exciting development in the study and treatment of neurological disorders of the ear and our quest to find a medical cure for this distressing condition..”

The trail has the support of the BTA which helps more 270,000 people a year and advises medical professionals from across the world. David Stockdale, Chief Executive of the British Tinnitus Association said: “At the BTA we continue to work towards finding a cure for tinnitus and ways to help reduce the symptoms of this incredibly common condition. We are delighted to support this trial moving into its next phase and will be monitoring progress closely.”

• For more information about the Sheffield study contact Lema Vernon on 0114 2713339 or email [email protected] For information onhe other UK sites visit www.autifony.com

• Tinnitis Awareness Week runs until Sunday, February 8. For more information visit www.tinnitus.org.uk/TAW2015