Tinnitus treatment device could silence the ringing

University of Michigan researchers have developed a device that may one day offer a solution to tinnitus, a condition that causes someone to hear a persistent ringing sound. The device has been tested on animals and humans, the latter of which report decreases in tinnitus severity after four weeks of daily use. This is compared to the placebo group, which didn’t experience any improvements to their condition.

Many tinnitus sufferers are desperate for a solution to the problem, which in severe cases can be so loud that they have trouble hearing other things. Despite how common the condition is, an effective solution is still forthcoming. This new University of Michigan study may signify big changes in that reality, though, by presenting a device that quiets nerve activity in the brain.

The researchers’ device uses “precisely timed sounds” in conjunction with weak electrical pulses to quiet the ringing sounds by dealing with the nerve activity behind them. Tests have demonstrated favorable outcomes, so much so that the University has patented the device concept.

Development is ongoing with the prospect of commercialization in mind, though it is still to be seen whether the device will actually be brought to market. Testing included 20 human patients who suffer from the phantom ringing sounds. The tech utilizes bimodal auditory-somatosensory stimulation, alternating between a mild electrical pulse and a sound played in the ears.

The system works by changing — that is, resetting to normal — fusiform cell activity. When someone experiences a loud noise, it could trigger an activity disruption that causes cells to fire rather than lying dormant until actual sound presents itself. Trauma to the head or neck can also trigger the condition, however.

Though the treatment didn’t eliminate the condition in most of the cases (only two people experienced a complete reversal), early results point toward a lessening of severity that helps the person ignore the condition and better get on with their life.

SOURCE: University of Michigan