Tinnitus, the maddening condition in which people hear weird ringing, may soon have a treatment. A newly developed novel device could cut down the phantom sound, aiding millions of people across the globe.
The device, according to a report in Phys.org, was developed after a series of tests on Guinea pigs and uses a combination of headphones and electrodes to deliver an alternating mix of precisely timed sounds and mild-electric pulses. This mix retrains the activity of nerve cells responsible for producing the unruly sound, which could sometimes be too loud to hear anything else.
Typically, when we hear a sound, these neurons fire helping our brain to receive and perceive it.
However, when people suffer from Tinnitus, whether due to loud noise, ear infection, or any other reason, the neurons fire anytime, making them hear ominous ringing without the actual sound being produced.
"The brain and specifically the region of the brainstem called the dorsal cochlear nucleus is the root of tinnitus," says study lead, Susan Shore. "When the main neurons in this region, called fusiform cells, become hyperactive and synchronize with one another, the phantom signal is transmitted into other centres where perception occurs."
That said, the combination of weak electrical pulses and special sounds is aimed at resetting these cells back to normal and stopping these signals. The device has already shown signs of promise, reducing the severity of the condition in 20 patients -- divided into two groups -- after a 16-week-long clinical study.
During first four weeks of the trial, one group tested the alternating mechanism of specialized sounds and electric pulses, while the second used a sound-only device. They all then took a four-week break and started again – but with reversed roles. Finally, they took another month-long break to conclude the study.
The findings, published in Science Translational Medicine, revealed most of the patients using the new device witnessed a reduction in tinnitus or less harsh sounds. For some, the noise level reduced by 12 decibels, while two even said the problem had disappeared completely. In comparison, sound-only treatment did not deliver any major improvements.
Evidently, the novel device could soon offer an effective way to deal with the unwanted ear buzzing. Often, people suffering from tinnitus lose their ability to concentrate and work, with some even suffering from problems like depression and anxiety.
Most importantly, unlike all other techniques aimed at masking the maddening ringing, this device is totally invasive and free from side effects. It still remains unclear when it will hit the markets, but the team has patented the device and may look at commercialisation after a few more trials.