Objectives: Tinnitus has a substantially negative impact on quality of life in up to 5% of the general population. Internet-based cognitive-behavioral treatment (iCBT) has been shown to be effective in a few trials. The aim of our study was to investigate iCBT for tinnitus by using a randomized controlled trial.
Methods: Patients with severe tinnitus-related distress were randomly assigned to therapist-guided iCBT (n = 62) or to a moderated online discussion forum (n = 62). Standardized self-report measures for tinnitus-related distress (Tinnitus Handicap Inventory, Mini-Tinnitus Questionnaire) and associated symptoms (tinnitus acceptance, anxiety, depression, and insomnia) were assessed at pretreatment and posttreatment, 6-month-, and 1-year follow-up. Clinical significance was assessed with the Reliable Change Index.
Results: Multivariate analyses of variance revealed significant main effects for time, group, and interaction in favor of the iCBT group. With regard to tinnitus-related distress, the significant univariate interaction effects (time by group) were supported by large effect sizes (Tinnitus Handicap Inventory: g = 0.83, 95% confidence interval = 0.47-1.20; Mini-Tinnitus Questionnaire: g = 1.08, 95% confidence interval = 0.71-1.64). For the secondary outcomes, significant interactions with small to medium effect sizes were found. Within-group effects for the iCBT, from pretreatment to follow-up, were substantial in regard to tinnitus-related distress (1.38 ≤ d ≤ 1.81) and small to large for secondary outcomes (0.39 ≤ d ≤ 1.04).
Conclusions: Using a randomized controlled trial design, we replicated prior findings regarding positive effects of Internet-delivered CBT on tinnitus-related distress and associated symptoms. Implementing iCBT for tinnitus into regular health care will be an important next step to increase access to treatment for patients with tinnitus.
Trial registration: ClinicalTrials.gov, Identifier: NCT01205919.