New Therapy for Patients With Severe Tinnitus

An integrative medicine approach.

  1. Tinnitus Talk
    Tinnitus is a common problem for which there is no universally effective treatment. The best available estimates indicate that 10 - 15% of adults report having tinnitus symptoms, but only 20% of those who report tinnitus suffer from it and subsequently seek treatment. Only formally reported by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), the economic impact of tinnitus is thought to be substantial.

    The VA reported in 2004 that 289,159 veterans received a disability award for their tinnitus amounting to a total annual compensation amount of over $345.5 million. Individuals with persistent severe tinnitus are unable to habituate to the tinnitus sound that most likely originates in the central auditory system (CAS) in response to peripheral injury.

    In a widely referenced study, it has been hypothesized that lack of habituation is secondary to abnormal processing of sensory information. Specifically, processing by the limbic system and autonomic nervous system is apparently abnormal in patients with increased levels of cortical arousal and inadequate coping mechanisms.

    In otolaryngology and audiology clinics, 'sound-based and educational therapies' (SBE) are the focus of most current therapies, and utilize enhanced sound input to the CAS. While SBE treatments may well provide a starting point for tinnitus treatment, additional treatment options are necessary particularly for those with significant non-auditory aspects of tinnitus (e.g., anxiety, depression, interference with daily life) as well as for those who do not experience significant improvement with SBE.

    Furthermore, commonly used forms of SBE [e.g.,Tinnitus Retraining Therapy (TRT)] can require over a year to become effective and may not be used in patients with hearing that is too poor to be modified by sound input.

    Based on prevalence data from tinnitus sufferers who seek treatment and the known percentage who do not respond to commonly used therapies, we estimate that 1.2 million individuals are not able to benefit at all from current, widely used treatment strategies.

    A new strategy to augment those currently used could empower patients to exert control over their tinnitus symptoms without the use of medications, expensive devices such as the Neuromonics device, or extended programs such as TRT. An alternative strategy may be useful both for patients who are not candidates for SBE and for those who respond poorly.

    An Integrative Medicine approach provides a likely solution. To date, there has been no systematic study of the benefits of an Integrative Medicine approach for severe tinnitus, particularly for non-auditory aspects of tinnitus symptoms.

    The goal of the proposed study is to determine if an integrative medicine approach which targets treatment of the nonauditory aspects of tinnitus suffering is more effective in alleviating tinnitus symptoms when added to current commonly applied SBE therapies, compared with SBE alone.

    If successful, this approach will be applied to a larger patient population in future studies to test the generalizability and the durability of the effect.

    Our eventual goal is to develop a streamlined approach that individualizes tinnitus treatment based on symptoms and patient characteristics, and that can be widely applied in general medical practice.

    Estimated Enrollment:40
    Study Start Date:September 2011
    Estimated Study Completion Date:October 2013
    Estimated Primary Completion Date:July 2013 (Final data collection date for primary outcome measure)