Antidepressants for patients with tinnitus

Tinnitus is described as the perception of sound or noise in the absence of real acoustic stimulation, and it is frequently associated with depression or depressive symptoms. Six studies involving a total of 610 patients matched the inclusion criteria for this review. Four evaluated three tricyclic antidepressant agents (amitriptyline, nortriptyline and trimipramine) for the treatment of tinnitus. These studies did not find enough evidence to prove the efficacy of these agents in the management of tinnitus. One study evaluated paroxetine, a selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor antidepressant, and one evaluated trazodone, an atypical antidepressant. Neither of these studies showed benefit of paroxetine or trazodone in the treatment of tinnitus. Side effects, though relatively minor, were common in all groups of antidepressants. Further research is required.

Authors' conclusions: 

There is as yet insufficient evidence to say that antidepressant drug therapy improves tinnitus.

Read the full abstract...

This is an update of a Cochrane review first published in The Cochrane Library in Issue 4, 2006 and previously updated in 2009.

Tinnitus is described as the perception of sound or noise in the absence of real acoustic stimulation. It has been compared with chronic pain, and may be associated with depression or depressive symptoms which can affect quality of life and the ability to work. Antidepressant drugs have been used to treat tinnitus in patients with and without depressive symptoms.


To assess the effectiveness of antidepressants in the treatment of tinnitus and to ascertain whether any benefit is due to a direct tinnitus effect or a secondary effect due to treatment of concomitant depressive states.

Search strategy: 

We searched the Cochrane Ear, Nose and Throat Disorders Group Trials Register; the Cochrane Central Register of Controlled Trials (CENTRAL); PubMed; EMBASE; PsycINFO; CINAHL; Web of Science; BIOSIS; ICTRP and additional sources for published and unpublished trials. The date of the most recent search was 5 January 2012.

Selection criteria: 

Randomised controlled clinical studies of antidepressant drugs versus placebo in patients with tinnitus.

Data collection and analysis: 

Two authors critically appraised the retrieved studies and extracted data independently. Where necessary we contacted study authors for further information.

Main results: 

Six trials involving 610 patients were included. Trial quality was generally low. Four of the trials looked at the effect of tricyclic antidepressants on tinnitus, investigating 405 patients. One trial investigated the effect of a selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor (SSRI) in a group of 120 patients. One study investigated trazodone, an atypical antidepressant, versus placebo. Only the trial using the SSRI drug reached the highest quality standard. None of the other included trials met the highest quality standard, due to use of inadequate outcome measures, large drop-out rates or failure to separate the effects on tinnitus from the effects on symptoms of anxiety and depression. All the trials assessing tricyclic antidepressants suggested that there was a slight improvement in tinnitus but these effects may have been attributable to methodological bias. The trial that investigated the SSRI drug found no overall improvement in any of the validated outcome measures that were used in the study although there was possible benefit for a subgroup that received higher doses of the drug. This observation merits further investigation. In the trial investigating trazodone, the results showed an improvement in tinnitus intensity and in quality of life after treatment, but in neither case reached statistical significance. Reports of side effects including sedation, sexual dysfunction and dry mouth were common.