International symbol of deafness or hard of hearing
Tinnitus is characterised by the perception of persistent ringing or buzzing sounds in the ears. Wikimedia Commons

In a breakthrough development, a new app named MindEar has emerged, offering a comprehensive approach to managing tinnitus by combining Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) through a chatbot interface with sound therapy.

This innovative application aims to provide users with a holistic and effective solution to alleviate the often debilitating impact of tinnitus on mental well-being.

Tinnitus, characterised by the perception of persistent ringing or buzzing sounds in the ears, is thought to affect 7.6 million people in the UK.

While it may manifest in various forms and intensities, the condition can significantly impact an individual's quality of life, leading to stress, anxiety and sleep disturbances.

MindEar, developed by a team of experts in psychology, technology and audiology, seeks to address these challenges by leveraging the power of CBT and sound therapy.

The app's core feature is a chatbot interface that guides users through tailored CBT exercises designed to reframe negative thought patterns associated with tinnitus.

CBT is a well-established psychological therapy that has proven effective in managing various mental health conditions.

In the context of tinnitus, it aims to help individuals change their perception of sound, reduce anxiety and improve overall coping mechanisms.

"We aim to empower individuals to regain control," stated Dr Fabrice Bardy, the primary author of the study conducted at the University of Auckland, who personally experiences tinnitus.

In their publication in the journal Frontiers in Audiology and Otology, Bardy and his team detail the participation of 28 individuals in the study.

Fourteen participants were assigned to use the app's virtual coach for 10 minutes daily over an eight-week period, while the other 14 received similar instructions but engaged in four half-hour video calls with a clinical psychologist.

Prior to and following the eight-week intervention, participants completed online questionnaires. The findings revealed that six participants using the app alone and nine with additional video calls experienced a clinically significant reduction in tinnitus-related distress.

The degree of improvement was comparable for both groups. After an additional eight weeks, a total of nine participants from both groups reported sustained improvements.

Bardy expressed the team's interest in investigating whether specific individuals derive greater benefits from the supplementary support of a clinical psychologist.

He suggested that some participants may face tinnitus alongside issues such as anxiety, stress, or sleep disorders, warranting additional assistance.

MindEar's chatbot engages users in interactive sessions that include educational content, coping strategies and exercises to retrain the brain's response to tinnitus.

By integrating CBT principles into a conversational format, the app aims to make therapeutic techniques more accessible and user-friendly, allowing individuals to engage with the treatment at their own pace.

The development of MindEar comes at a time when digital health solutions are gaining prominence in the mental health landscape.

The accessibility and convenience offered by mobile apps make them valuable tools for individuals seeking support for various health conditions, including tinnitus.

Dr Lucy Handscomb, affiliated with the UCL Ear Institute and actively engaged in the trial, pointed out the limited accessibility of in-person assistance for tinnitus. She highlighted the common experience of heightened anxiety among patients awaiting therapy.

"My hope is that, by giving people access to this very carefully designed intervention early on in their journey with tinnitus, they will be prevented from ever entering some of the negative thought cycles that so often occur and be able to live well with their tinnitus from the start," she said.

"I don't see MindEar as a replacement for tinnitus therapy in person but I think it could be a very valuable complement to it."

MindEar joins the ranks of innovative digital health interventions that leverage technology to provide scalable and personalised mental health support.

The app's creators emphasise the importance of making evidence-based therapeutic interventions accessible to a broader audience.

MindEar's user-friendly interface, combined with its integration of CBT and sound therapy, positions it as a promising tool in the holistic management of tinnitus.