Tinnitus can be a difficult condition to live with, but there’s hope on the horizon for all those people suffering from this chronic ringing in the ears. A new experimental device has been developed which makes use of electrical pulses and timed blasts of sound to reset the nerve activity in the brain.
These new findings have been now published in the journal Science Translational Medicine.
This is great news because scientists have been trying hard to get to the bottom of the cause of chronic tinnitus for years now, and while it appears to be a mechanical problem, it also has a lot to do with brain activity, particularly the fusiform cells that are responsible for gauging where the sounds come from also for phasing out the background noise.
“The brain, and specifically the region of the brainstem called the dorsal cochlear nucleus, is the root of tinnitus,” the professor at the University of Michigan Medical School and leader of the research team, Susan Shore, said in a statement. “When the main neurons in this region, called fusiform cells, become hyperactive and synchronize with one another, the phantom signal is transmitted to other centers where perception occurs.”
“If we can stop these signals, we can stop tinnitus. That is what our approach attempts to do, and we’re encouraged by these initial parallel results in animals and humans.”
This so called device works by alternating bursts of two different stimuli daily during a 30 minute session. First, sound is played into the ears through a special earphone. The audio is then precisely alternated with light electrical zaps which is delivered through electrodes placed on the neck or the cheek. These zaps then tickle the fusiform cells and compels them to change the rate at which they fire, which then resets the nerve cells back into normal activity.
The initial stage of this research was carried out on guinea pigs and was then followed by a small double blind clinical trial which included 21 humans. After 4 weeks of daily use of this device, most of the subjects found that the severity of the phantom sounds had decreased a lot and some of them even said that their tinnitus was totally eradicated. None of the patients reported any adverse effects or worsening of the symptoms.
“We’re definitely encouraged by these results, but we need to optimize the length of treatments, identify which subgroups of patients may benefit most, and determine if this approach works in patients who have nonsomatic forms of the condition that can’t be modulated by head and neck maneuvers,” Shore added.