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Tinnitus Relief: Therapy Mix Helps Ringing in Ears

Combining Parts of Sound Retraining and Talk Therapy Can Give Relief
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WebMD Health News
Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD

May 24, 2012 -- Combining parts of two established treatments for tinnitus in a new way can work, according to new research.

Tinnitus is a persistent ringing or buzzing in the ears that can be debilitating.

Researcher Rilana Cima of Maastricht University in the Netherlands and colleagues used parts of sound-based retraining therapy and talk therapy in what they say is a unique way.

This approach worked better than usual care, they found.

"This was very effective in decreasing tinnitus severity, distress, and impact on daily life and general health," Cima tells WebMD.

The study is published in The Lancet.

Two U.S. experts had mixed reaction to the study. One said the new research adds scientific credibility to the two approaches. Another said there is not much new in the study.

Tinnitus: Back Story

About 50 million people in the U.S. experience tinnitus, according to the American Tinnitus Association. About 2% of the population has tinnitus so severe their quality of life is impaired.

Those with tinnitus perceive a sound when no external source of sound exists. They may describe the condition as a ringing, buzzing, hissing, or whooshing in the ears. It can affect one or both ears.

Most often, noise exposure leads to tinnitus, according to the American Tinnitus Association. It can be a single extreme noise or the accumulated result of noise over time.

Another known cause of tinnitus is a head or neck injury.

Typically, many different treatments are offered, but with little evidence of effectiveness.

Often, says Cima, a doctor will tell a patient with tinnitus: "Nothing more can be done; you have to learn to live with it."

In severe cases, patients can become depressed and unable to work or socialize.

Tinnitus: Combining Treatments

Cima assigned 247 patients with tinnitus to usual care and 245 to the specialized care.

Those in the usual care were seen by an audiologist to start. If the audiologist thought they also needed a social worker, the audiologist would refer them.

Those in specialized care got a combination of audiology and psychology treatments. The team included many health care providers, such as psychologists and other therapists.

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