OHSU Researcher Proposes New Treatment Strategy For Sufferers of Chronic Ringing in the Ears

11/03/00    Portland, Ore.

Administering the Techniques of Chronic Pain Management May Help Those Suffering From Severe Tinnitus.

Nearly 50 million Americans suffer from tinnitus, a ringing or crackling in the ear. Of those, 12 million are affected enough to seek medical help. One million of those are afflicted so badly that they cannot lead normal lives. Robert Folmer, Ph.D., assistant professor in the Department of Otolaryngology/Head and Neck Surgery at Oregon Health Sciences University's School of Medicine, has conducted a survey that suggests doctors should treat tinnitus symptoms with many of the same methods used for chronic pain. This directly opposes the "learn to live with it" philosophy that many patients have heard from their physicians.

Along with the persistent ringing, chronic sufferers of tinnitus can suffer from depression, insomnia and anxiety. These symptoms are shared by those with chronic pain. Because of these similarities, Folmer suggests the same course of therapy:

  • Anti-depressants and/or psychotherapy not only treat depression but also can improve sleep patterns and reduce anxiety.
  • Insomnia can be treated with medications, relaxation therapy and/or acoustic therapy (pleasant sounds from compact discs, small fountains or machines that emit a white noise).
  • Anxiety can be treated with medications, relaxation therapies, psychotherapies, biofeedback, hypnosis, massage or other stress management techniques.

Folmer says these companion maladies often are not diagnosed because of time constraints. "I realize that most otolaryngologists don't have the time to test chronic tinnitus patients to see whether they also suffer from depression, anxiety and insomnia. It's just not acceptable to tell them 'to live with it' without giving them the methods to do so. Clinics like ours can help."

The OHSU Tinnitus Clinic was the first of its kind in the world. Since its opening in 1974, more than 7,000 patients with severe tinnitus have been treated. As part of the Oregon Hearing Research Center, the Tinnitus Clinic also is involved in research into the causation, treatment and prevention of tinnitus and hearing loss.