Approximately 15% of Swedish people experience tinnitus, but only 2.4% experience severe problems. Treatment modalities for tinnitus vary, but the most common treatment is counseling. The majority of patients with tinnitus report some degree of hearing loss, and hearing aids have been used for many years in patients who suffer from both tinnitus and hearing impairment. The aim of the present thesis was to investigate disease management, determine quality of life and identify treatment strategies for patients with tinnitus and sensorineural hearing loss.
The first two studies described here are retrospective, descriptive studies of patients who sought care for tinnitus and hearing loss at two Ear-Nose-Throat (ENT) clinics in Östergötland County, Sweden, during the years 2004 - 2007. Study I showed that 70% of the cohort had tinnitus; however, many did not initially receive a diagnosis of tinnitus. Information about vertigo, heredity for hearing loss and tinnitus, diabetes history, cardiovascular disease history and other factors related to health was often missing from the patients’ medical records. The results could show that the overall scores using the Tinnitus Handicap Inventory (THI) were higher in female patients than in male patients. Although it is likely that hearing aids would be beneficial for the majority of these patients, 314 (44%) of the 714 total patients had hearing aids. Furthermore, the outcomes from study II demonstrated that a majority of the patients (61%) who were dissatisfied with the care they had obtained had no hearing aids. This finding may indicate that the fitting of hearing aids is an important treatment for patients with both tinnitus and hearing loss.
Studies III and IV were prospective studies. Data collection was based on patients who sought care for tinnitus and/or hearing loss at the ENT clinic in Linköping during 2012-2013. In study III, 92 patients were divided into two groups: one group contained individuals with both tinnitus and hearing loss, and the other group contained patients with only hearing loss. The patients were assessed using the Reading Span test, the Hearing in Noise Test (HINT) and three questionnaires (the THI, the Hearing Handicap Inventory for Elderly and the Pittsburg Sleep Quality Index) at baseline and follow-up. The results from the age-matched subgroups (n=30+30) generated from the full clinical groups (46+46) showed significantly improved Reading Span test performance and sleep quality in patients with both tinnitus and hearing loss. Similar results were observed in our full clinical population (n=46+46). However, the interpretation of this finding is difficult due to age differences between the groups. In conclusion, hearing aid fitting had a significantly positive impact on working memory capacity and sleep quality in patients with both tinnitus and hearing loss compared with patients with only hearing loss.
In study IV, a brief Motivational Interviewing (MI) guide was integrated into the hearing rehabilitation process for 23 patients with both tinnitus and hearing loss, and they were compared against a control group (n=23) of patients with both tinnitus and hearing loss who underwent traditional hearing rehabilitation. The results showed that the patients who received the brief MI guide required fewer visits to complete their hearing rehabilitation compared with the patients in the control group. In addition, there was a significant difference in THI scores between the groups, which indicated that the intervention reduced tinnitus annoyance more in the MI group. Furthermore, both groups showed higher scores at follow-up compared with baseline on the International Outcome Inventory for Hearing Aids (IOI-HA) scale, which indicated that both approaches showed a positive effect on hearing aid satisfaction.
Study V was a retrospective, descriptive study that focused on a part of a Stepped Care model and included patients who participated in half-day tinnitus information meetings from 2004 to 2011 in the audiology clinic at Linköping University Hospital. A total of 426 tinnitus patients with complete questionnaires (the THI and the Hospital Anxiety and Depression Scale, HADS) were included in the study. The results showed significant decreases in scores on the THI and the anxiety module of the HADS before and after the information session. However, there were no statistically significant changes in the depression module of the HADS.
In conclusion, this thesis underscores the importance of hearing impairment, cognitive variables and motivational procedures in the management of tinnitus. Multidisciplinary group information needs to be further validated.