Hyperbaric oxygen for idiopathic sudden sensorineural hearing loss and tinnitus

Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2007 Jan 24:(1):CD004739. doi: 10.1002/14651858.CD004739.pub3.


Background: Idiopathic sudden sensorineural hearing loss (ISSHL) with or without tinnitus is common and presents a health problem with significant effect on quality of life. Hyperbaric oxygen therapy (HBOT) may improve oxygen supply to the inner ear and, it is postulated, may result in an improvement in hearing and/or a reduction in the intensity of tinnitus.

Objectives: To assess the benefits and harms of HBOT for treating ISSHL and/or tinnitus.

Search strategy: We initially searched in June 2004 and repeated the search in June 2006. Our search included the Cochrane Ear, Nose and Throat Disorders Group Trials Register, the Cochrane Central Register of Controlled Trials (CENTRAL) (The Cochrane Library, Issue 2 2006), MEDLINE (1951 to 2006), EMBASE (1974 to 2006), CINAHL, Database of Randomised Trials in Hyperbaric Medicine (DORCTHIM), AMED, LILACS, KOREAMED, INDMED, National Research Register (NRR), CSA, ISI PROCEEDINGS and ZETOC.

Selection criteria: Randomised studies comparing the effect on ISSHL and/or tinnitus of therapeutic regimens which include HBOT with those that exclude HBOT.

Data collection and analysis: Three authors independently evaluated the quality of the relevant trials using the validated Oxford-Scale (Jadad 1996) and extracted the data from the included trials.

Main results: Six trials contributed to this review (308 subjects). Pooled data from two trials involving 114 patients did not show any significant improvement in the chance of a 50% increase in hearing threshold on Pure Tone Average (PTA) when HBOT was used (relative risk [RR] with HBOT 1.53, 95% CI 0.85 to 2.78, P = 0.16), but did show a significantly increased chance of a 25% increase in PTA (RR 1.39, 95% CI 1.05 to 1.84, P = 0.02). There was a 22% greater chance of improvement with HBOT, and the number needed to treat (NNT) to achieve one extra good outcome was five (95% CI 3 to 20). A single trial involving 50 subjects also suggested significantly more improvement in the mean PTA threshold with HBOT, expressed as a percentage of baseline (WMD 37%, 95% CI 22% to 53%, P < 0.001). The significance of any improvement following HBOT in a subjective rating of tinnitus could not be assessed due to poor reporting. There were no significant improvements in hearing or tinnitus reported in the single study to examine chronic presentation (six months) of ISSHL and/or tinnitus.

Authors' conclusions: For people with early presentation of ISSHL, the application of HBOT significantly improved hearing loss, but the clinical significance of the level of improvement is not clear. We could not assess the effect of HBOT on tinnitus by pooled data analysis. The routine application of HBOT to these patients cannot be justified from this review. In view of the modest number of patients, methodological shortcomings and poor reporting, this result should be interpreted cautiously, and an appropriately powered trial of high methodological rigour is justified to define those patients (if any) who can be expected to derive most benefit from HBOT. There is no evidence of a beneficial effect of HBOT on chronic presentation of ISSHL and/or tinnitus and we do not recommend use of HBOT for this purpose based on the single study available.

Publication types

  • Meta-Analysis
  • Review
  • Systematic Review

MeSH terms

  • Hearing Loss, Sensorineural / therapy*
  • Hearing Loss, Sudden / therapy*
  • Humans
  • Hyperbaric Oxygenation*
  • Randomized Controlled Trials as Topic
  • Tinnitus / therapy*