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.
“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.
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