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Earphones and Coffee to help Tinnitus sufferers

Susanna Reid on Good Morning Britain
Picture courtesy of ITV/Rex.

This week Dr Mark Lawson, a man from Reading in Berkshire, killed himself because of his tinnitus.

Anyone who has not suffered from that endless hum or background noise will find it difficult to understand the affect and disturbance this problem has on life.

Dr Lawson has clearly reached a point of total desperation and while in his case we don’t know all the details leading up to this tragic event, it does underline the fact that tinnitus can be an underrated problem.

ITV’s celebrity tv presenter Susanna Reid developed the condition a decade ago after giving birth and says when she was first diagnosed a big fear was that she would never hear silence again.

It is possible tinnitus can be temporary…some people can develop a ringing in their ears after being exposed to loud noise such as rock concerts…..but in these cases  the noise will usually disappear over time.

But for an amazing one in ten people in the UK who suffer from various levels of tinnitus, the condition is permanent.

Tinnitus is more common in older people, and Laterlife researched the problem five years ago (pop tinnitus in the search box top right on the Laterlife site to read the story) but things have moved on a little since then.

The latest news is that tinnitus can be silenced by retuning the brain. This is a new treatment which stops the brain from creating these “phantom” noises by playing matching tones over headphones.

This new treatment is called Acoustic Coordinated Reset (ACR) and so far results seem really good. In a major trial carried out at the Jülich Research Centre in Germany, seven out of ten patients treated with ACR reported their tinnitus has been reduced or in some cases disappeared.

ACR helps the brain to “unlearn” the neurological processes which have caused the generation of this constant sound.

In the research, the patients first had to select as near as possible the tone or type of sound they were hearing from a range of sounds played to them.  Then this tone was recreated and played to them through in-ear headphones for as long as six hours a day for three months.

While this sounds unpleasant, in reality all the headphones were doing were recreating a sound the patients already heard, often 24 hours a day.

After three months, the patients had a four week break and then heard the recreated sounds again at regular intervals for up to five months.

The whole trial lasted 40 weeks and at the end of the research, the results showed that ACR halved the intensity of the symptoms. Seven in ten said their tinnitus had got quieter and definitely less annoying.

Research is still going on of course, but forms of this treatment are already available in certain clinics around the world.  In the UK, theTinnitus Clinic in Harley Street, London, has already introduced a form of the treatment….

And there is a planned UK trial and hope that the National Institute of Health and Clinical Excellence (Nice) will make the treatment widely available.

The British Tinnitus Association offers a great deal of information and support through its extensive website:

Coffee aids tinnitus sufferers

In another trial at the Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston, America, a study of more than 65,000 women found that those who consumed around four or five cups of coffee a day developed some protection against tinnitus.

The hospital’s Professor Gary Curham, who was involved in the study, reported: 

"We observed a significant inverse association between caffeine intake and the incidence of tinnitus among these women."

He added: 

"The reason behind this is unclear. We know caffeine stimulates the central nervous system, and previous research has demonstrated caffeine has a direct effect on the inner ear in both bench science and animal studies.”

More research is needed here, especially as this latest research refutes the previous idea that coffee could aggravate the symptoms of tinnitus.  In the study, it was found that people who went “cold turkey” and gave up coffee after a three a day habit could make the ear sound worse.

"Researchers note that further evidence is needed to make any recommendations about whether the addition of caffeine would improve tinnitus symptoms."

Ironically, in the past tinnitus patients have been advised to give up coffee as it was believed the beverage may aggravate symptoms.

But researchers then began questioning this after discovering going cold turkey on a three a day habit may make the ringing worse.

The good news is that not only is there already lots of help and advice available, but research is going on vigorously in the hope that soon there will be real help for everyone who suffers from this common problem.

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