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Medical Care

New Drug Therapy Helps Tinnitus Patients

A new treatment for tinnitus appears to help patients cope better with the perceived ringing in their ears, thus improving their quality of life.

Researchers from Washington University School of Medicine, in St. Louis, found that the improvement was reported by participants who took computer-based cognitive training and received a drug called d-cycloserine. Patients who got the same cognitive training but took a placebo didn’t report any improvement.

People who have tinnitus hear phantom ringing in their ears; the perceived noise can be so bothersome that they have difficulty concentrating. The new treatment helps with concentration, although not with the tinnitus itself.

The study was published JAMA Otolaryngology-Head & Neck Surgery.

“We suspect that both the problems and the solutions concerning tinnitus are in the brain,” said senior author Jay F. Piccirillo, MD, professor of otolaryngology. “We don’t know what causes the ringing. Many people with tinnitus have had ear trauma or hearing loss but not all. And at the same time, a lot of people with ear injuries or hearing loss don’t have tinnitus.”

Both groups in the 30-patient study got the same cognitive training. That involved computer-based exercises aimed at improving processing of sound, speech and memory. D-cycloserine, the drug given to half the participants, is known to encourage neuroplasticity, a state in which the brain is more amenable to change. Such changes range from resolving irrational fears or improving concentration, attention and skillis involved in planning, problem solving and decision making.

“We would like to perform a larger study with the same brain-fitness program and d-cycloserine, to see if what we saw in this pilot study can be confirmed with more participants,” Piccirillo said.

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