BACKGROUND: Managing chronic tinnitus is challenging, and innovative ways to address the resulting health-care burden are required. Internet-based cognitive behavioral therapy (iCBT) for tinnitus shows promise as a cost-effective treatment option. The feasibility and effectiveness of iCBT in the United Kingdom are yet to be explored. Furthermore, it is not known if iCBT can be supported by an audiologist rather than a psychologist.
PURPOSE: This study aimed to determine the feasibility of guided iCBT using audiological support on tinnitus distress and tinnitus-related comorbidities. Furthermore, it aimed to establish the feasibility of iCBT for tinnitus distress in the United Kingdom, by determining recruitment, attrition, and compliance rates. Finally, it aimed to identify which aspects of the protocol require refinement for subsequent clinical trials.
RESEARCH DESIGN: A single-group open trial design was implemented. This study would serve as a prerequisite study, to identify barriers, before undertaking effectiveness trials.
STUDY SAMPLE: Participants consisted of 37 adults (18 males, 19 females), with an age range of between 50 and 59 yr. The mean preintervention tinnitus severity rating was 56.15 (standard deviation = 18.35), which is categorized as “severe tinnitus” as measured by the Tinnitus Functional Index (TFI). Five participants withdrew during the study, and 29 of the remaining participants completed the postintervention questionnaire.
INTERVENTION: The guided iCBT intervention ran over an eight-week period and consisted of 16 obligatory modules and five optional modules. The intervention was designed to be interactive, interesting, and stimulating. A key element was the provision of support from an audiologist throughout the program.
DATA COLLECTION AND ANALYSIS: Online questionnaires were used throughout the study. These were administered at baseline and postintervention to determine attrition and compliance rates and to facilitate sample size estimates for further clinical trials. Outcome measures for tinnitus severity, hearing handicap, insomnia, cognitive functioning, hyperacusis, anxiety, depression, and life satisfaction were used to investigate the effects of iCBT with audiological support. In addition, a weekly questionnaire was incorporated to monitor change in tinnitus distress while undertaking the intervention.
RESULTS: Feasibility was established using an audiologist to support this guided iCBT intervention, as a significant change postintervention was found for tinnitus severity, as measured by the TFI and the Tinnitus Handicap Inventory, Screening version. The attrition rate was 22% and compliance was variable. Although these results were based on a small sample, they provide encouraging evidence for the feasibility of delivering iCBT treatment for tinnitus symptoms with audiology support in the United Kingdom.
CONCLUSIONS: An Internet-based intervention of tinnitus appears to be feasible in the United Kingdom when using audiological support. Randomized controlled trials to further investigate the effectiveness of iCBT for tinnitus in the United Kingdom are required.