June 7, 2023 – People with tinnitus may be able to find relief with a new kind of treatment, according to a new study.
Tinnitus is the sensation of hearing ringing, buzzing, hissing, chirping, whistling, or other sounds. About 15% of Americans have tinnitus, the University of Michigan’s Kresge Hearing Research Institute said in a news release about the study.
Figuring out how the brain deals with information from multiple senses, not just hearing, can help scientists come up with personalized tinnitus treatments, the release said.
The researchers studied 99 people with somatic tinnitus, a form of the condition in which things like clenching the jaw or applying pressure to the forehead result in a noticeable change in pitch or loudness of experienced sounds. About 70% of people with tinnitus have this form of it.
People in the study were given a portable at-home device that could do two things: Send short audio pulses that reproduced the sound of each person's tinnitus in varying degrees, used to weaken the effects of tinnitus in the ear, combined with electrical stimulation provided by electrodes attached near the temple or on the spine.
One group received the bi-sensory treatment for 30 minutes a day for 6 weeks, followed by a 6-week break from treatment, then 6 weeks of the treatment that only focused on hearing. The other group started with the hearing-only treatment, followed by the break and then the bi-sensory treatment. People who took part in the research answered questions weekly on the Tinnitus Functional Index (TFI) and Tinnitus Handicap Inventory (THI). The TFI and THI use patient self-reporting to measure how severe tinnitus is and find hardships it causes.
The study was published earlier this month in JAMA Open Network.
The university research team found study participants in both groups who received bi-sensory treatment reported decreases in the loudness of their tinnitus, as well as overall better quality of life. Those who received treatment focusing only on sound didn’t report such positive outcomes.
“This study paves the way for the use of personalized, bi-sensory stimulation as an effective treatment for tinnitus, providing hope for millions of tinnitus sufferers,” Susan Shore, PhD, of the research institute said, in the release.