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Tinnitus Library

How Meditation and Mindfulness Help in Tinnitus Therapy

by Barry Keate

There is no cure for the type of tinnitus caused by noise exposure and hearing loss. However, there are many treatment options that can help reduce the sound level and/or the aggravation caused by tinnitus. One recently developed therapy, called Mindfulness, is based on ancient meditation techniques and has been shown to be helpful for those bothered by persistent tinnitus.

Much of the following article is based on the work of Jennifer Gans, PsyD, a Clinical Psychologist at the University of California, San Francisco, as reported in Hearing Journal. (4)

Mindfulness-Based Stress ReductionMature woman with eyes closed, meditating.

Mindfulness meditation is based on a meditative technique that was developed by Buddhists 2,500 years ago. Jon Kabat-Zinn, a biologist at the University of Massachusetts Medical Center, is largely credited with bringing mindfulness meditation to modern medicine. The idea was to train medical patients in Buddhist meditative practices, but without the Buddhism.

Kabat-Zinn developed an 8-week treatment program, which he called Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (MBSR). Participants attend an 8-week group session lasting 2 ½ hours one evening per week. An all-day session is held on a weekend between the sixth and seventh sessions. Participants are given instructional CDs and taught to use the meditation practices while at home for 45 minutes at least 6 days a week between group sessions.

Mindfulness meditation is a particular way of paying attention to the present moment – intentionally and without judgment. This is practiced by focusing on something specific, such as one's breathing. Thoughts, feelings and sensations come and go and Mindfulness meditation observes them but no judgment is placed and no efforts are made to modify them. Mindfulness is a state of active, open attention to the present. It is a way to live in the moment and awaken to experience.

In some ways this is similar to Cognitive Behavioral Therapy however, CBT involves judging how rational, realistic or logical these thoughts are with the goal of replacing the irrational, unrealistic or illogical ones. Mindfulness meditation involves accepting these thoughts and feelings in a kind and non-judgmental manner then returning to the present (your breath). This change in perception facilitates coping strategies and results in reduction of stress.

This treatment has been clinically shown to be successful for conditions such as depression, anxiety, stress, fibromyalgia, chronic fatigue, psoriasis, symptoms associated with cancer, and pain.

One of the first studies to look at Mindfulness as a means of pain management demonstrated significant reductions in present-moment pain (58% reduction), negative body image (29% reduction), inhibition of activity by pain (30% reduction) and anxiety and depression (55% reduction). These reductions, with the exception of present-moment pain, were maintained for 15 months post-treatment for all patients.

Treatments used for pain management are of special interest to those who study tinnitus. This is because people with tinnitus and those with chronic pain share many similarities, such as perceived lack of control, problems with attention and focus, maladaptive coping strategies and catastrophic thinking. Dr. Gans began to look at Mindfulness meditation as a way to address the anxiety and distress of tinnitus.

Mindfulness-Based Tinnitus Reduction

An early study, conducted in Wales, used a combination of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy and Mindfulness meditation to treat 25 people with chronic tinnitus. (2) Significant reductions in tinnitus were reported with 80% of patients reported being better or much better at 4 and 6-month follow-ups. A weakness of this study was that the relative benefits of CBT and Mindfulness could not be determined.

Dr. Gans began a pilot study on Mindfulness-Based Tinnitus Reduction (MBTR) in her clinic. (3) The study involved seven tinnitus patients in an 8-week stress reduction course. The patients were assessed 12 months after completion of the study.

Gans and colleagues found that scores on the Tinnitus Handicap Inventory relating to social functioning, sleep, depression and anxiety had decreased immediately after the study and continued to decrease 12 months later. Patients averaged a tinnitus handicap score of 50.6 (moderate) on entering the program. This dropped to 41.7 after program completion then down to 22.8 (mild) after 12 months.

Perceptions of chronic tinnitus changed, with participants noting they felt an increased tolerance, acceptance and courage to live with it. People said that tinnitus no longer seemed such a dreadful curse. It was just another sensation that could be annoying but was not insurmountable.

This was a very small, pilot study but the results were very encouraging. Larger studies need to be completed to back up these clinically favorable results. However, Mindfulness meditation has been accepted by the medical community for a number of chronic conditions. Mindfulness centers abound in cities throughout the United States. In my city, a major University has a Mindfulness clinic and there are several others close by.

One of our goals at Arches is to help people with tinnitus stay informed on all potential therapies that will help them live a normal, fulfilled life.

Other helpful therapies I have written about and support include:

1 - Acupuncture helps about 40% of tinnitus patients.

2 - Biofeedback and Neurofeedback train people to reduce stress and control involuntary functions of the body.

3 - Yoga produces GABA, a calming neurotransmitter in the brain.

4 - Hypnotherapy reduces stress associated with tinnitus.

5 - Proper Diet, including salt reduction, helps lower stress, blood pressure and tinnitus.

6 - Cognitive Behavioral Therapy reduces the aggravation of tinnitus.

All these therapies can be helpful for many people with tinnitus. When used in conjunction with Arches Tinnitus Formulas, increased effectiveness can be expected. Arches Tinnitus Formula with Ginkgo Max 26/7® has been clinically proven to reduce tinnitus sounds for most people who use it. (4) (5) (6) Combined along with Mindfulness meditation these two treatments can prove to be  a powerful combination therapy.

References:

1 – Gans, Jennifer J. Mindfulness-based tinnitus therapy is an approach with ancient roots. Hearing Journal November 2010, Vol 63; Issue 11: PP52-56.

2 – Andersson G. Psychological aspects of tinnitus and the application of cognitive-behavioral therapy. Clin Psychol Rev 2001;22(7):977-900.

3 – Gans J, Cole M, Greenberg B. Sustained benefit of Mindfulness-Based Tinnitus Stress Reduction (MBTSR) in adults with chronic tinnitus: a pilot study. Mindfulness, Oct 2015, Vol 6, Issue 5, pp1232-1234.

4 – Holstein N. Ginkgo special extract EGb 761 in tinnitus therapy: An overview of results of completed clinical trials. Fortschr Med 2001 Jan 11; 118(4):157-64.

5 – Von Boetticher A. Ginkgo biloba extract in the treatment of tinnitus: A systematic review. Neuropsychiatr Dis Treat 2011;7:441-447.

6 - Arda HN, Tuncel U, Akdogan O, Ozluoglu LN. The role of zinc in the treatment of tinnitus. Otol Neurotol. 2003 Jan; 24(1):86-9.