Groundbreaking mobile app helps cure tinnitus
[Feb. 18, 2023: Gilbert Wong, University of Auckland]
Researchers at the University of Auckland are excited by ‘encouraging results’ from a clinical trial of a mobile-phone-based therapy. (CREDIT: Creative Commons)
After 20 years searching for a cure for tinnitus, researchers at the University of Auckland are excited by ‘encouraging results’ from a clinical trial of a mobile-phone-based therapy. The study randomised 61 patients to one of two treatments, the prototype of the new ‘digital polytherapeutic’ or a popular self-help app producing white noise.
On average, the group with the polytherapeutic (31 people) showed clinically significant improvements at 12 weeks, while the other group (30 people) did not. The results have just been published in Frontiers in Neurology. “This is more significant than some of our earlier work and is likely to have a direct impact on future treatment of tinnitus,” Associate Professor in Audiology Grant Searchfield says.
Key to the new treatment is an initial assessment by an audiologist who develops the personalised treatment plan, combining a range of digital tools, based on the individual’s experience of tinnitus.
“Earlier trials have found white noise, goal-based counselling, goal-oriented games and other technology-based therapies are effective for some people some of the time,” says Dr Searchfield. “This is quicker and more effective, taking 12 weeks rather than 12 months for more individuals to gain some control.”
There is no pill that can cure tinnitus. “What this therapy does is essentially rewire the brain in a way that de-emphasises the sound of the tinnitus to a background noise that has no meaning or relevance to the listener,” Dr Searchfield says.
Audiology research fellow Dr Phil Sanders says the results are exciting and he found running the trial personally rewarding.
“Sixty-five percent of participants reported an improvement. For some people, it was life-changing - where tinnitus was taking over their lives and attention.”
Some people didn’t notice an improvement and their feedback will inform further personalisation, Dr Sanders says.
Example screenshots for (A) the USL intervention (i) Menu, (ii) Passive therapy sounds, (iii) AOIL task, (iv) Tracking task. (B) The WN intervention. (i) Menu, (ii) Passive therapy sounds, (iii) Sound control, (iv) Sound mixing. (CREDIT: University of Auckland)
Tinnitus is a phantom noise and its causes are complex. It has so far defied successful treatment.
While most people experience tinnitus, or ringing in the ears at least on occasions, around five percent experience it to a distressing degree. Impacts can include trouble sleeping, difficulty carrying out daily tasks and depression.
Associate Professor Grant Searchfield says this is a treatment made possible by recent technology developments. (CREDIT: University of Auckland)
Dr Searchfield says seeing his patients’ distress and having no effective treatment to offer inspired his research. “I wanted to make a difference.”
The next step will be to refine the prototype and proceed to larger local and international trials with a view to FDA approval.
The researchers hope the app will be clinically available in around six months.
Symptoms of tinnitus
Tinnitus is most often described as a ringing in the ears, even though no external sound is present. However, tinnitus can also cause other types of phantom noises in your ears, including:
Most people who have tinnitus have subjective tinnitus, or tinnitus that only you can hear. The noises of tinnitus may vary in pitch from a low roar to a high squeal, and you may hear it in one or both ears.
In some cases, the sound can be so loud it interferes with your ability to concentrate or hear external sound. Tinnitus may be present all the time, or it may come and go.
In rare cases, tinnitus can occur as a rhythmic pulsing or whooshing sound, often in time with your heartbeat. This is called pulsatile tinnitus. If you have pulsatile tinnitus, your doctor may be able to hear your tinnitus when he or she does an examination (objective tinnitus).
For more science and technology stories check out our New Innovations section at The Brighter Side of News.
Note: Materials provided above by University of Auckland. Content may be edited for style and length.
Like these kind of feel good stories? Get the Brighter Side of News' newsletter.