Scientists have found a way to alleviate the misery of tinnitus after just four weeks.
Around 15 per cent of people across the world are believed to suffer from tinnitus, which causes phantom sounds such as buzzing and whistling in their ears.
Many are unable to work, suffer distress, sleep disturbance and depression from the noise they cannot stop.
However scientists have found a way to ‘reset’ the brain cells, which eliminated tinnitus in two people and made it less harsh and easier to ignore for another 11 people.
The treatment consists of four weeks of sounds matched to individuals’ tinnitus, listened to in daily half-hour sessions through headphones, while getting simultaneous mild electric shocks to the cheek or neck.
Around 15 per cent of people across the world are believed to suffer from tinnitus, which causes phantom sounds such as buzzing and whistling in their ears
Based on years of scientific research into the root causes of tinnitus, it appears to stop the ‘phantom signal’ in the brain which causes the condition.
Dr Susan Shore, who led the research from the University of Michigan, said: ‘If we can stop these signals, we can stop tinnitus. That is what our approach attempts to do, and we're encouraged by these initial parallel results in animals and humans.’
Tinnitus can be triggered by loud noises, affecting soldiers exposed to explosions in war or people who have worked around noisy machinery.
But it also develops over time, affecting people as they grow older and lose their hearing or following an ear infection.
Tinnitus strikes when brain cells which help us focus on where sounds are coming from, and tune out sensations from our own head and neck, start to misfire. They send out signals which make sufferers believe they can hear ringing, whistling, hissing or buzzing sounds, without an actual sound in the environment.
MINDFULNESS COULD BE A TREATMENT...
Mindfulness could be a treatment for tinnitus, new research suggests.
British scientists discovered the ancient Buddhist practice can clear symptoms of the ear-ringing condition for up to six months.
The study, based on 75 patients, involved eight 120-hour sessions of mindfulness or relaxation techniques each week.
Both groups reported fewer symptoms and quieter tones, but mindfulness - which is championed by American actress Gwyneth Paltrow - had the biggest effect.
Researchers from University College London and Bath University were behind the findings, published in Psychotherapy and Psychosomatics.
The treatment developed by scientists involves a sound played through headphones at the precise same rhythm as the phantom tinnitus. A mild electric current is used to gently zap the patient on the surface of the neck or cheek, to reset their sense of where sound is coming from.
The result is believed to be that brain cells receive the input they need to begin working properly again.
In a small study of 20 people, two said their tinnitus disappeared completely following the treatment. The authors state: ‘Eleven participants noted subjective changes in volume, pitch or quality that resulted in their tinnitus becoming less “harsh” or “piercing” and more “mellow”.
‘Even participants who did not experience a complete elimination of their tinnitus reported anecdotally that their tinnitus was less obtrusive and easier to ignore.’
There are few treatments for tinnitus, with sufferers often undergoing counselling to deal with the noise in their heads. Those who are extremely desperate opt for deep brain stimulation, having surgery to place electrodes inside their brain, which can have severe side effects.
In the latest study, the sounds and electrical pulses helped to tackle tinnitus, with some seeing the volume of the sounds they experienced falling by 12 decibels – the volume of a humming electric lightbulb. The sounds alone did not have the same effect.
The study, which also included experiments on guinea pigs, is published in the journal Science Translational Medicine.