Novel device may ease symptoms of tinnitus

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Bimodal auditory-somatosensory treatment is noninvasive and showed no side effects.
Bimodal auditory-somatosensory treatment is noninvasive and showed no side effects.

Bimodal auditory-somatosensory stimulation can help significantly reduce pathology in patients with tinnitus, according to a study published in Science Translational Medicine.

Kendra L Marks, AuD, of the Kresge Hearing Research Institute, Department of Otolaryngology at the University of Michigan, and associates conducted a series of studies, including a double-blinded, unimodal-controlled, crossover study to assess the efficacy of treatment for tinnitus using an auditory-somatosensory stimulation.

The authors assessed tinnitus in 20 patients, using somatosensory stimulation via transcutaneous active electrodes. The position of the electrodes was dependent on individualized tinnitus spectrums.

Patients were administered a take-home device to be used once a day for half an hour for two 4-week sessions. Following each 4-week session was a 4-week “wash out” session, at which time patients would be switched to the other treatment type for the remaining 4 weeks so that every patient experienced both active (bimodal) and sham (unimodal) treatment types.

The invasiveness of tinnitus was measured using a Tinnitus Functional Index (TFI) through a TinnTester Software.

The investigators noted a significant decrease in tinnitus loudness among patients who were administered active bimodal treatment. The largest average difference in loudness was observed after the 4th and final week of testing. There was a stagnant loudness observed during sham treatments for both groups, with no significant difference reported between the two groups during this treatment.

By 4 weeks of active treatment, tinnitus loudness was reduced by an average of 12.2 dB. Average TFI values decreased from 29.2±2.6 to 22.9±1.8 units during active treatment.

Of the 20 participants, 11 reported individual alterations in volume, pitch, or quality that reduced tinnitus noticeability, while 10 had a clinically significant decrease in TFI values during active treatment (at least 13-point reduction). Two of the 20 patients claimed their tinnitus was eradicated entirely.

Although the study was positive, the authors did note some limitations.

“Our study only tested one subgroup of tinnitus patients, those with somatic tinnitus; thus, is it unknown whether these results would translate to other subgroups,” the authors state.  “Nevertheless, the neural desynchronization strategy presented here offers a new and accessible treatment possibility for tinnitus sufferers.”

Reference

  1. Marks KL, Martel DT, Wu C, et al. Auditory-somatosensory bimodal stimulation desynchronizes brain circuitry to reduce tinnitus in guinea pigs and humans. Sci Transl Med. 2018 Jan 3. doi: 10.1126/scitranslmed.aal3175
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