Monthly Archives: August 2014

Tinnitus less common in women who drink more coffee


A new study finds that women who consume more caffeine are less likely to have tinnitus – a condition where a person perceives noise in one or both ears, or in the head, even though there is no external sound.


The researchers, from Brigham and Women’s Hospital (BWH) in Boston, MA, write about their findings in The American Journal of Medicine.

According to the American Tinnitus Association, around 50 million people in the US experience some degree of tinnitus, which is often described as “ringing in the ears” although some people also hear hissing, buzzing, roaring, clicking or chirping. Of these, about 1 million are so badly affected they cannot function normally day to day.

For the study, the researchers analyzed data on over 65,000 women with and without tinnitus from the Nurses’ Health Study II.

The women were aged between 30 and 44 at the start of the study in 1991, when researchers collected a wealth of information on medical history, lifestyle and diet. At this point, the average caffeine intake was 242.3 mg per day – the equivalent of nearly two and a half 8-ounce cups of coffee. Most of the caffeine consumed came from coffee drinking.

In 2009, 18 years after they joined the study, the women were asked questions about tinnitus, including date of onset, where applicable. When a woman reported experiencing symptoms either daily or on a few days per week, the researchers counted it as a case. They identified a total of 5,289 cases of reported incident tinnitus.

Women who consumed more caffeine less likely to be among tinnitus cases

When they analyzed the results, the team found the more caffeine women consumed, the less likely they were to be among the tinnitus cases.

Senior author Gary Curhan, a physician-researcher in BWH’s Channing Division of Network Medicine and professor of Medicine at Harvard Medical School, says:

“We observed a significant inverse association between caffeine intake and the incidence of tinnitus among these women.”

He and his and colleagues found that regardless of age, rates of tinnitus were 15% lower among women who consumed 450-599 mg a day of caffeine, compared with women who drank less than 150 mg a day (about one and a half 8-ounce cups of coffee).

Prof. Curham notes that while the reason behind the finding is unclear, we know that “caffeine stimulates the central nervous system, and previous research has demonstrated that caffeine has a direct effect on the inner ear in both bench science and animal studies.”

The researchers say more evidence is required before we can say whether increased caffeine intake might improve tinnitus symptoms.

Funds from the National Institutes of Health helped finance the study.

Medical News Today recently reported on another study where researchers found tinnitus affects processing of emotions. Writing in the journal Brain Research, they describe how, compared with people not affected by the condition, those with tinnitus process emotions differently in the brain.

Written by Catharine Paddock PhD



Natural light makes for happier, more alert nurses


Hospital patients seeking the best possible care may be advised to consider the health and well-being of the nurses who look after them. New research suggests nurses who work in natural light have lower blood pressure, are in better moods when they serve patients, and show other signs of improved well-being over nurses who work in artificially lit surroundings with fewer windows.

Rana Zadeh, assistant professor of design and environmental analysis at Cornell University in Ithaca, NY, and colleagues describe how they came to these conclusions in a study published in the journal Health Environments Research and Design.

Nurses work on demanding and sensitive tasks that require them to be alert – they also work long shifts and unsociable hours. Their performance underpins not only the quality of care delivered on a ward, but also patient and staff safety.

Working in natural light improves performance and alertness

In their paper, Prof. Zadeh and colleagues explain how there is evidence that working in environments lit by natural light improves performance, mood and alertness, and that having access to natural light and windows with views have restorative effects on people both physiologically and psychologically.

And yet, until this study, nobody had carried out a thorough investigation of the effect of daylight on health care employees’ well-being, which is somewhat surprising, given how so many hospitals have working environments with no natural lighting.

For their investigation, Prof. Zadeh and colleagues studied two wards of an acute-care unit. The wards were similarly organized and had similar environments, and the numbers and types of patients and conditions they treated were similar – but they differed significantly in the availability of windows in the nursing stations.

The team collected a range of measures so they could compare aspects of health, behavior, mood and performance of the nurses in the two wards.

Workstations with natural lighting may improve nurses’ well-being and patient care

The results showed that the nurses in the ward with more natural light had significantly lower blood pressure, communicated and laughed more, and served their patients in better moods than their counterparts in the ward that did not have as many windows to the outside.

The team suggests letting natural light into the nurses’ workstations resulted in improved alertness and mood restoration effects, and that the findings “support evidence from laboratory and field settings of the benefits of windows and daylight.”

Prof. Zadeh says the design of physical environments where caregivers work on critical tasks should be supportive of their performance and their health:

“Nurses save lives and deal with complications every day. It can be a very intense and stressful work environment, which is why humor and a good mood are integral to the nursing profession. A smart and affordable way to bring positive mood – and laughter – into the workplace, is designing the right workspace for it.”

Where access to natural daylight and the opportunity to look out onto a nice view is not possible, then the next best thing is to optimize artificial lighting so that its spectrum, intensity and variability support circadian rhythms and work performance, she adds.

The Center for Health Design Research Coalition helped fund the study.

Meanwhile, in February 2014, The Lancet published a study that found following surgery, patient survival is linked to nurses’ workload. The European researchers found that for every extra patient in a nurse’s average workload, the chance of surgical patients dying within 30 days of admission increased by 7%.

Written by Catharine Paddock PhD




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