What’s the Buzz? Treatment Strategies in Chronic Subjective Tinnitus

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Nonpharmacotherapeutic management

Cognitive behavioral therapy. Conceptualized by Aaron T. Beck in the 1960s, cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is the leading recommendation made by the AAO–HNS in its tinnitus treatment guidelines.6 Beck’s work centered on the idea that behaviors are modifiable thoughts, through analysis of past experiences and assumptions based on those experiences. By understanding the core belief that a patient attaches to a feeling, Beck hypothesized that behaviors or responses to those feelings could be changed; this is accomplished through discussion to dispel unwarranted fears and by teaching coping mechanisms, such as relaxation. The idea behind CBT in the management of tinnitus is clear: The sound cannot be eliminated, but the patient’s response to the sound can be modified. Ultimately, through this modified response or habituation, the patient can relax and live with the sound.31

Since anxiety, depression, and insomnia are common comorbidities of tinnitus, a psychologic approach remains in the forefront of treatment recommendations. Hoare and colleagues reported that in “a meta-analysis of 10 randomized trials evaluating different forms of CBT (by the therapist and over the Internet), CBT improved tinnitus symptoms compared to non-CBT controls.”7

Tinnitus retraining therapy (TRT) is another form of habituation therapy, introduced by Jastreboff in the 1990s. His work furthered the idea that tinnitus could be reframed, as it is in CBT. Simply, he proposed that systems outside the auditory complex—namely the autonomic nervous system and the limbic system—respond to the signal produced by damaged hair cells in the cochlear nuclei. TRT retrains connections to block or ignore these signals.13 Unlike CBT, the aim of TRT is to eliminate the perception of sound.

By educating patients about the physiologic mechanisms of tinnitus, TRT reduces patient anxiety related to the sound. The process of habituation follows counseling. To accomplish this, the patient wears a sound generator, similar in appearance to hearing aids, using broadband noise. The sound does not mask the tinnitus but closes the gap between silence and the perception of tinnitus. The sound generator is worn for six hours daily for approximately 12 months.

Multiple studies have employed Jastreboff’s original technique, including a clinical trial by Bauer and colleagues. The published outcome of this study confirmed that patients experienced a positive and lasting effect with TRT.32 In addition, a small study of TRT conducted by Barozzi and colleagues, using different colors of sound (ie, how the frequency of a given sound corresponds to the light-wave frequency of a particular color), found statistically significant improvement. Allowing patients to pick a sound that they found more pleasant increased the effectiveness of the treatment.33 (Patients can learn more about TRT by visiting www.tinnitus-pjj.com, hosted by tinnitus researcher Pawel J. Jastreboff.)

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