The stepped care treatment involves a wide range of experts such as audiologists
Almost one in five adults will experience tinnitus - sustained ringing in the ears – at some time in their life and so far there has been no really effective treatment. Now, researchers from Maastricht University have found a new, more successful approach to the condition. After assessing the wellbeing of 492 patients with tinnitus, they gave 245 of them stepped specialised care, including a programme called ‘tinnitus retraining’. This is a form of habituation therapy whereby patients are given counselling and are regularly exposed to neutral external sounds, so that they can learn to change their perception of the tinnitus, reducing its effects to the point where they can eventually become unaware of it. The stepped care aspect of the treatment involves a wide range of experts – speech therapists, psychologists, audiologists or physical therapists – giving each patient individual care as appropriate.
The remainder of the original group of 492 patients received standard care. Throughout the study all participants were given questionnaires and asked to describe their quality of life and their health status in relation to tinnitus.
One year later the specialised care group reported significantly improved quality of life and also reduced tinnitus symptoms. On an improvement scale of 0.0 to 0.8, with a small effect being 0.2 and large 0.8, the patients who had had specialised care reported a 0.43 greater improvement in tinnitus severity, 0.45 in tinnitus impairment, and 0.24 in quality of life. While the ultimate goal for researchers is obviously to find a cure for tinnitus these findings, say the researchers, could pave the way to more effective treatment of the disorder, making patients’ lives more bearable.
British Tinnitus Association
Action on Hearing Loss