Check out the article in Scientific American magazine by Tori Rodriguez, “When Talk Therapy Treats Tinnitus.” The article notes how physical complaints often co-occur with certain psychological conditions. Treating the psyche in these cases seems to improve physical health, according to several recent studies.
When it comes to tinnitus and stress, that persistent ringing in the ears, affects 50 million Americans. The Scientific American magazine article refers readers to a study published online in January in Quality of Life Research found that about half of tinnitus sufferers also have mental disorders, confirming the findings of previous research.
You can check out a 2012 study found that emotional stress more strongly predicts tinnitus than other known risk factors, perhaps because the emotion-processing areas of the brain are closely connected to its auditory systems. A small study in the January 2012 Mindfulness issue found that reducing stress with mindful meditation alleviated tinnitus symptoms and lowered sufferers’ perceived handicap.
Internet-based therapy relieves persistent tinnitus
A German-Swedish study shows that Internet-based self-help training for tinnitus is as successful as group therapy. Those suffering from nagging tinnitus can benefit from internet-based therapy just as much as patients who take part in group therapy sessions, notes the March 7, 2012 news release, “Internet-based therapy relieves persistent tinnitus.”
These are the findings of a German-Swedish study in which patients with moderate to severe tinnitus tried out various forms of therapy over a ten-week period. The outcome of both the internet-based therapy and group therapy sessions was significantly better than that of a control group that only participated in an online discussion forum and thus demonstrated both the former to be effective methods of managing the symptoms of irritating ringing in the ears. The study was conducted by the Clinical Psychology and Psychotherapy division of the Institute of Psychology at Johannes Gutenberg Universitaet Mainz (JGU) and the Department of Behavioral Sciences and Learning at Linköping University in Sweden.
According to the German Tinnitus League (Deutsche Tinnitus-Liga, DTL), two percent of the population suffer from moderate to unbearable tinnitus. But the symptoms of tinnitus can be successfully managed by means of cognitive behavioral therapy. However, not everyone has the opportunity or the desire to take a course of psychotherapy.
As shown by the German-Swedish study, those affected by tinnitus can now achieve the same level of outcome with the help of an internet-based therapy program, which encourages them to adopt individual and active strategies to combat their tinnitus. For the purposes of the study, the training program developed in Sweden was adapted so that it could be used for German patients and then be evaluated for its effectiveness.
The study showed that distress measured using the Tinnitus Handicap Inventory was reduced on average from moderate (40 points) to mild (29 points) in participants who completed the internet-based training course. The results for subjects in the cognitive behavioral therapy group were also very good, with distress levels being reduced from 44 to 29 points. In contrast, there was hardly any change in this respect in the control group subjects participating in the online discussion forum.
Their average distress level was 40 points at the beginning of the study and remained at 37 points thereafter. “Our internet-based therapy concept was very effective when it came to the reduction of tinnitus-related distress or, to put it another way, at increasing the tolerance levels of subjects with regard to their tinnitus,” concludes Dr. Maria Kleinstäuber of the Clinical Psychology and Psychotherapy division at JGU, in the news release.
Preferred method of therapy
At the same time, another interesting result was produced with regard to the preferred method of therapy. A significant number of subjects were initially skeptical with regard to the internet-based therapy concept and expressed a preference for the group therapy course. However, they were randomly assigned to the groups.
To everyone’s surprise it turned out on the completion of treatment that there was no difference in the effectiveness of the two strategies. “This means that the internet-based therapy concept produced as positive a result as group therapy despite the initial skepticism,” says Kleinstäuber. Initial evaluations indicate that the effects of both therapy forms were still persisting after six months.
The authors of the study propose that internet-based forms of therapy should be increasingly used in the psychotherapeutic treatment of tinnitus patients. Furthermore, they call for additional research on patients’ skepticism of internet-based therapy, particularly in view of the long waiting times and the lack of outpatient forms of therapy. Also see, “Study provides compelling evidence for an effective new treatment for tinnitus” and “More than 80 percent of patients manage to stop discomfort from tinnitus and can lead a normal life.”
Is magnetic therapy effective for tinnitus?
Loyola University Health System (Loyola University Medical Center) is studying whether a new form of non-invasive magnetic therapy can help people who suffer debilitating tinnitus (ringing in the ears), reports a September 18, 2012 news release, “Is magnetic therapy effective for tinnitus?” The therapy, transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS), sends short pulses of magnetic fields to the brain. TMS has been approved since 2009 for patients who have major depression and have failed at least one antidepressant.
The Loyola study will include patients who suffer from both depression and tinnitus. Recent studies have found that about 12 percent of people with chronic tinnitus also suffer depression and anxiety — a rate three times higher than that of the general population.
Tinnitus is the perception of sound in one or both ears when there is no external source
It can include ringing, hissing, roaring, whistling, chirping or clicking. About 50 million Americans have at least some tinnitus; 16 million seek medical attention and about 2 million are seriously debilitated, according to the American Tinnitus Association. There is no cure.
The perception of phantom sounds can be more pronounced in people who are depressed. Moreover, antidepressant medications can cause tinnitus occasionally, said Dr. Murali Rao, principal investigator of Loyola’s TMS tinnitus study.
Several earlier studies have found that TMS can benefit tinnitus patients
Loyola’s study is the first to examine patients who suffer from both tinnitus and depression. “The combination of these two conditions can be extremely debilitating,” Rao says in the September 18, 2012 news release, “Is magnetic therapy effective for tinnitus?” For another point of view, also see the Apr 22, 2013 Reuters news article, “Magnetic therapy may not relieve ringing in the ears | Reuters.”
In the Apr 22, 2013 Reuters news story, it noted that in Europe, doctors have been using rTMS to create electrical currents in the auditory nerve for people with tinnitus, seeing a “mild to moderate, short-lasting effect,” according to the scientists noted in the article. He and his colleagues previously tested two weeks of rTMS treatments on people with tinnitus and found it had no benefit (see the Reuters Health story of March 24, 2011 here).
In the 2012 news release, “Is magnetic therapy effective for tinnitus?” during TMS treatment, the patient reclines in a comfortable padded chair. A magnetic coil, placed next to the left side of the head, sends short pulses of magnetic fields to the surface of the brain. This produces currents that stimulate brain cells. The currents, in turn, affect mood-regulatory circuits deeper in the brain. The resulting changes in the brain appear to be beneficial to patients who suffer depression. Each treatment lasts 35 to 40 minutes.
The study enrolled 10 to 15 patients. Each patient received five treatments a week for four to six weeks, for a total of 20 to 30 treatments. Each patient was evaluated by a physician three times during the treatment course, or more frequently if the doctor deems necessary.
The treatments do not require anesthesia or sedation
Afterward, a patient can immediately resume normal activities, including driving. Studies have found that patients do not experience memory loss or seizures. Side effects include mild headache or tingling in the scalp, which can be treated with Tylenol.
Rao is chair of the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Neurosciences of Loyola University Chicago Stritch School of Medicine. His co-investigator in the study is Sam Marzo, MD, medical director of Loyola’s Balance and Hearing Center. Other investigators are Matthew Niedzwiecki, MD, a psychiatry resident; and James Sinacore, PhD, a statistician.