Universiteit Maastricht

New effective treatment for tinnitus

25 May 2012

A team of researchers from Maastricht, Leuven, Bristol and Cambridge demonstrated the effectiveness of a new tinnitus treatment approach in the leading journal The Lancet. Tinnitus is the perception of a noxious disabling internal sound without an external source. Roughly fifteen percent of the population suffers from this disorder in varying degrees along with the associated concentration problems, sleep disturbances, anxiety, depression and extreme fatigue. Sometimes this disorder is so disruptive it seriously impairs their daily functioning and, unfortunately, there is no cure. The research conducted by Rilana Cima and her colleagues, however, indicates that cognitive behavioural therapy can help improve the daily functioning of tinnitus patients. The research results are so impressive that the editorial team at The Lancet invited a commentary introducing the article, entitled Tinnitus: The end of therapeutic nihilism.


The study, conducted at Adelante Audiology & Communication, followed 492 adult tinnitus patients for a period of twelve months. The effectiveness of an innovative tinnitus treatment protocol was compared to the standard treatment methods offered throughout the Netherlands. The ground-breaking, stepped treatment plan consists of cognitive behavioural therapy and combines elements from psychology and audiology. The therapy aims at reducing the negative thoughts and feelings surrounding tinnitus, symptoms through exposure techniques, movement and relaxation exercises, and mindfulness-based elements. This is supplemented with elements from the so-called tinnitus retraining therapy (TRT), which examines the problems on a sound perception level. The treatment is offered by a multidisciplinary team of audiologists, psychologists, speech and movement therapists, physical therapists and social workers. The project was funded by the Netherlands Organisation for Health Research and Development (ZonMW), and directed by Johan Vlaeyen, professor behavioural medicine at KU Leuven and Maastricht University.

The results offer compelling evidence to support the effectiveness of this innovative and specialised tinnitus therapy over more traditional forms of treatment. The overall health of the tinnitus patient improves and the severity of their symptoms and perceived impairment decreases after therapy. Moreover, the new treatment is far more effective in reducing negative mood, dysfunctional beliefs and tinnitus-related fear). The specialised tinnitus treatment is effective for both milder and more severe forms of the disorder. The researchers are therefore advocating a widespread implementation of this new treatment protocol.


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