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New Approach Could Relieve Ringing Ears

Marili Forastieri/Photodisc/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- For the first time, research suggests an approach that may yield a solution to tinnitus, a condition best known for buzzing or ringing in the ears.  A new study released Thursday in the journal Lancet offers evidence of an effective treatment for the nearly 16 million Americans who have sought medical attention for tinnitus.

"In extreme forms, patients are unable to function, go to work or other social events, and are deprived of enjoyment in life," said the study's primary investigator, Rilana Cima, a clinical psychiatrist at Maastricht University in the Netherlands.

In the study, 247 tinnitus patients received standard therapy, while 245 patients instead received treatment with specialized care involving an integrated multi-disciplinary team of audiologists, psychologists, speech therapists, movement therapists, physical therapists and social workers.  What the researchers found was that those patients treated by the multi-disciplinary team had improvements not only in tinnitus symptoms, but also in quality of life.

"The results of this trial are especially convincing and relevant for clinical practice," writes Dr. Berthold Langguth, associate professor of medicine at the University of Regensburg in Germany, in an editorial accompanying the new study.

"Specialized care was significantly better than usual care for the whole sample," continues Langguth.  "The researchers did not identify a new treatment -- rather, they identified the most useful treatments."

The new integrated, multi-disciplinary approach outlined in this study includes a combination of standard tests and medical evaluations in addition to a special type of therapy called cognitive behavioral therapy.

So why is cognitive behavior therapy so helpful?

"It's not the sound but the negative reaction to the sound that prevents suffers from habituating to it," Cima said.  "Once they hear it, it's very hard to divert their attention away... People get a fear reaction because they think something is wrong -- it becomes the attention-grabbing thing that prevents them from doing their normal activities."

Cognitive behavioral therapy is a way to redirect tinnitus sufferer's attention away from the fearful thoughts that often remind them of the ringing in their ears.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio

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