Tuesday, July 10, 2018


Dr Laurence McKenna
New research led by Dr Laurence McKenna, pictured, from University College London Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust (UCLH) and Dr Liz Marks from the Department of Psychology at the University of Bath has found that a mindfulness-based approach to tinnitus can make the symptoms of the condition less severe, less intrusive and less troublesome.

Tinnitus is a physical condition experienced as noises or ringing in the ears or head when no such external physical noise is present. The condition, which can result from a wide range of underlying causes, is usually caused by a fault in the hearing system itself, and is a symptom, not a disease in itself. At present there is no actual 'cure' for tinnitus. However, many of the causes of tinnitus are treatable.

It is an extremely distressing, even disabling, condition in and of itself. Worse, the condition is associated with many other problems such as emotional stress, insomnia, auditory perceptual problems and concentration problems. Tinnitus afflicts a significant percentage of the population—about ten to twenty per cent of the population. Some people are more at risk for the condition—musicians, military personnel, people who otherwise work in loud environments, and seniors.

Regrettably, there is at present no treatment to stop the noise of tinnitus. That’s where mindfulness comes in. The essence of mindfulness is—acceptance and non-reaction. It’s like the old-fashioned tape recorder or the modern-day video surveillance camera; the equipment records but does not react to what it hears or sees. So it is with mindfulness.

The research team 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.

For the study, which has been published in the journal Ear and Hearing, seventy-five patients took part in a trial at UCLH’s Royal National Throat, Nose and Ear Hospital, receiving either MBCT or relaxation therapy. The research team found that both treatments led to a reduction in tinnitus severity, psychological distress, anxiety and depression, but the MBCT treatment led to significantly greater reductions in tinnitus severity than the relaxation treatment, and this improvement lasted for longer.

‘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,’ Dr Marks said. 

In other words, people learn how to 'allow' and 'accept' tinnitus rather than fighting it or trying to push it away. This is the practice of non-resistance: what you resist, persists. How true that is!

Study: McKenna L, Marks E, & Vogt F. (2018) ‘Mindfulness based cognitive therapy for chronic tinnitus: evaluation of benefits in a large sample of patients attending a tinnitus clinic.’ Ear and Hearing, 39(2), 359 - 366. DOI: 10.1097/AUD.0000000000000491


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