People who experience Tinnitus might finally have some hope for alleviating their symptoms, after an experimental device helped ease the condition in a sample of 273 volunteers.
The tongue buzzing is combined with a carefully prepared audio stream fed through headphones, sounding a little like ambient electronic music. The combined treatment caused an improvement in symptoms for 86 percent of the participants, according to a study published in the latest issue of the Science Translational Medicine journal.
Even better, the improvements lasted for up to a year for many of the individuals involved. These are promising signs for the 10-15 percent of people worldwide who live with the phantom sounds and ringing ears caused by Tinnitus, the study showed.
Developed by Neuromod Devices in Ireland, the device – called the Lenire – aims to heighten the sensitivity of the brain, effectively crowding out the overactive parts of the brain that would otherwise cause Tinnitus symptoms.
"If you make the auditory brain more sensitive to many inputs and acoustic stimuli, then it becomes distracted away and less sensitive or aware of the Tinnitus . This is how we believe the treatment is working," neuroscientist Hubert Lim, from the University of Minnesota and chief scientific officer at Neuromod said in a report published Saturday on the Science Alert website.
Experts think the cause of Tinnitus is connected to faulty neuron wiring in the brain, causing sounds to be heard that aren't actually there. The combination of tongue stimulation delivered by a small electrode-packed paddle, and the white noise and musical tones delivered over headphones looks like it could help. This approach is technically known as bimodal neuromodulation.
Subjects took treatments of up to an hour a day for 12 weeks, but the good results achieved need more research before Lenire can be put on the market, and this is what the maker plans to do, according to Lim.