New research has found that a mindfulness-based approach to tinnitus could transform treatment of the condition.

Led by Dr. Laurence McKenna from University College London Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust (UCLH) and Dr. Liz Marks from the Department of Psychology at the University of Bath, the new study found that mindfulness based cognitive therapy (MBCT) helps to significantly reduce the severity of tinnitus compared to relaxation-based treatments, an approach recommended by many tinnitus clinics.

Tinnitus, described as a sensation or awareness of sound that is not caused by an external sound source, affects approximately 6 million people in the UK — about 10 percent of the population. Approximately one in 100 people are very distressed or disabled by it and as many as one in 20 people are at least moderately distressed by it.

Tinnitus is associated with complaints of emotional stress, insomnia, auditory perceptual problems, and concentration problems, researchers report.

While there is no treatment to stop the tinnitus noise, the new research, funded by the British Tinnitus Association (BTA), shows that treatment can make it less severe, intrusive, and bothersome, the researchers say.

For the study, 75 patients took part in a trial at UCLH’s Royal National Throat, Nose and Ear Hospital, receiving either MBCT or relaxation therapy.

The study found that both treatments led to a reduction in tinnitus severity, psychological distress, anxiety, and depression for patients, according to the researchers.

“However, the MBCT treatment led to significantly greater reductions in tinnitus severity than the relaxation treatment, and this improvement lasted for longer,” Marks said. “In addition, 182 patients who completed MBCT routinely in our clinic showed a similar level of improvement.”

Relaxation therapy provides patients with specific skills to reduce stress arousal levels. In contrast, MBCT, taught by highly-trained clinical psychologists, teaches patients to pay purposeful, present-moment attention to experiences, rather than trying to suppress those experiences, the researchers explained.

Practicing mindfulness meditation can cultivate a more helpful way of responding to tinnitus, researchers add.

People learn how to “allow” and “accept” tinnitus, rather than having to “fight it” or “push it away,” the researchers noted.

“MBCT turns traditional tinnitus treatment on its head — so rather than trying to avoid or mask the noise, it teaches people to stop the battle with tinnitus,” Marks said.

“The mindfulness approach is radically different from what most tinnitus sufferers have tried before, and it may not be right for everyone,” she continued. “We are confident, however, that the growing research base has demonstrated how it can offer an exciting new treatment to people who may have found that traditional treatment has not been able to help them yet. We hope the results of our research will be one of the first steps to MBCT becoming more widely adopted.”

The study was published in the journals Ear and Hearing and Psychotherapy and Psychosomatics.

Source: University of Bath