Significant Breakthrough in Search for Tinnitus Cure

Tinnitus Concept

A new study finds clinically significant improvements in tinnitus from a mobile-phone-based therapy.

Scientists are excited by the results from a trial of a new treatment for tinnitus.

After 20 years of searching for a cure for tinnitus, researchers at the University of Auckland in New Zealand are excited by ‘encouraging results’ from a clinical trial of a mobile-phone-based therapy.

For the study, 61 patients were randomly assigned to one of two treatments. Half (31 people) were given the prototype of the new ‘digital polytherapeutic.’ The other half (30 people) used a popular self-help app producing white noise.

On average, the group with the polytherapeutic showed clinically significant improvements at 12 weeks, while the other group did not. The results were published on August 5, 2022, in the journal 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 personalized treatment plan. It combines a range of digital tools, based on the individual’s experience of tinnitus.

Associate Professor Grant Searchfield says this is a treatment made possible by recent technology developments. Credit: University of Auckland

“Earlier trials have found white noise, goal-based counseling, 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 or medication that can cure tinnitus.

“What this therapy does is essentially rewire the brain in a way that de-emphasizes the sound of the tinnitus to a background noise that has no meaning or relevance to the listener,” Dr. Searchfield says.

Dr. Phil Sanders, an audiology research fellow, 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.”

Although some people didn’t notice an improvement, their feedback will inform further personalization, Dr. Sanders says.

Tinnitus is a phantom noise and its underlying causes are complex. Thus far, it has defied successful treatment.

Most people experience tinnitus, or ringing in the ears, occasionally. However, around five percent or people experience it to a distressing degree. Impacts can include trouble sleeping, difficulty carrying out daily tasks, and even depression.

Dr. Searchfield says his research was inspired by seeing his patients’ distress and having no effective treatment to offer. “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 United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approval.

The scientists hope the app will be clinically available in around six months.

Reference: “A randomized single-blind controlled trial of a prototype digital polytherapeutic for tinnitus” by Grant D. Searchfield and Philip J. Sanders, 5 August 2022, Frontiers in Neurology.
DOI: 10.3389/fneur.2022.958730


View Comments

  • A rain app works for me to fall asleep w/o tinnitus bothering me. That or a fan running constantly in the background.
    White noise is just too white-noisy to be pleasant.

    • Did you try other noises like brown noise, or pink? Yes these are real things. Personally I prefer brown. But I've thought myself to ignore the ringing, so I rarely need it.

  • I "play" some of my favorite classical music in my head almost constantly . That gives me a focus other than the buzzing .

  • Will it be affordable? It's a phone app after all. Will this be a windfall for audiologists to charge $500 hearing tests?

    • Probably depends on where you live. If you're in Canada or the UK, your govt. will likely pick up the tab. If you're American, you're likely boned unless on the Oregon Health Plan or something.

  • Early in the text you state digital polytherapeutic works and phone app did not. End of article states working on app for fda approval. Please explain difference between "digital polytherapeutic" and "phone app"

  • I've had tinnitus in 1 ear for nearly 20 years from Bells Palsy, as well as overall noise sensitivity from ME/CFS. Loud noises, ongoing noise & certain (usually high) pitches trigger it. I can't imagine any "noise" improving it.

    • Do not become pessimistic. They don't make money off of billionaires. They have to sell it to the masses.

  • Tinnitus makes it difficult to hear low voiced people . I have been dealing with it since 2002 after an assault being punched in both sides of my head.

  • The rise in tinnitus was after microwaves/radio waves/cell phones came into existence- why be stupid & add more with a cell?

  • I start suffering with Tinnitus after I bought a cell phone with G5 reception. Perhaps a coincidence but maybe some research should be done in that direction. Another thing that I notice is that driving and changing altitude (atmosferic pressure) suddenly the Tinnitus was stronger. Is pressure a factor? Up to you to investigate, good luck.

  • I have had tinnitus for 40+ years. It might impair hearing, but does not bother me, I just accept it as normal.
    Smoking a cig will increase the intensity very much - that has to be a clue. But don’t assume that tobacco causes tinnitus, I just know it triggers an increase in intensity.

    Now you know.

University of Auckland

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