Scientists suspect existing seizure, nerve pain drug may also treat tinnitus

Volunteers needed for first large-scale study

Millions of people with severe tinnitus currently have little hope for quick relief from the unrelenting ringing or buzzing noises the disorder produces. But scientists at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis suspect a drug already approved for seizure disorders and chronic nerve pain also can help silence the noises that plague tinnitus patients.

The team is recruiting volunteers for the first large study of the potential treatment.

“This trial is very exciting because we are studying a drug that may have direct impact on tinnitus,” says principal investigator Jay F. Piccirillo, M.D., a Washington University otolaryngologist at Barnes-Jewish Hospital. “All other medications currently used for this condition just work on the negative effects of tinnitus, like sleep disturbance and anxiety. But if this trial is successful, it could lead to a new type of treatment option.”

According to the American Tinnitus Association, more than 50 million Americans have tinnitus, about 2 million of whom are so severely affected that they cannot function properly. However, there currently is no direct pharmaceutical treatment for tinnitus approved by the Food and Drug Administration.

Typically used for seizures and chronic nerve pain, gabapentin is known to have few drug interactions and to be well tolerated by most patients. Research on tinnitus suggests the condition may be similar to chronic nerve pain, so School of Medicine researchers hypothesized that gabapentin’s benefits might also mitigate symptoms of tinnitus.

According to their preliminary data, they were right: Gabapentin significantly reduced the symptoms of severe tinnitus in a small group of patients. The team now is recruiting participants so they can test the drug in a larger population.

Volunteers between 18 and 70 years old whose tinnitus has interfered with their daily activities for at least six months may be eligible. Participants will be randomly assigned to take either the drug gabapentin or an inactive, placebo pill for eight weeks. The medication and physical examination are free of charge.

For more information, call Joshua Finnell at (314) 362-4356.

Funding from the National Institute of Deafness and Communication Disorders.

The full-time and volunteer faculty of Washington University School of Medicine are the physicians and surgeons of Barnes-Jewish and St. Louis Children’s hospitals. The School of Medicine is one of the leading medical research, teaching and patient care institutions in the nation, currently ranked second in the nation by U.S. News & World Report. Through its affiliations with Barnes-Jewish and St. Louis Children’s hospitals, the School of Medicine is linked to BJC HealthCare.