Patients suffering from tinnitus hear “phantom” ringing, buzzing and other imaginary sounds in their ears. But a new study has found that one effective treatment for the condition may involve sending electromagnetic pulses straight into the brain. The approach is already useful in treating depression in the US.
Robert Folmer, lead author on the study and member of the Portland Veterans Affairs Medical Center as well as the Oregon Health and Science University, informs that transcranial magnetic simulation (TMS) is a long way from being widely available.
But while transcranial magnetic simulation might take some time to reach all tinnitus patients, the results of his study were promising and he has high hopes that the treatment will someday join the ranks of current therapies such as hearing aids or symptom management strategies, and be able to improve the lives of tinnitus patients.
He gave a statement saying that even though he doesn’t see transcranial magnetic simulation replacing any of the current therapies, he does see it as another method for helping some of these patients.
He went on to add that tinnitus has the most chances of occurring in people with hearing loss and people who are frequently exposed to loud noises. Research has shown that the damage caused to the auditory system makes it easy for the condition to develop.
The treatment involves taking a coil with electric current running through it and placing it on the scalp of a patient. This generates a magnetic field which then affects the brain cells in its vicinity. The lead author explained that the magnetic field penetrates the skull in order to interact with brain tissue.
For the study, Folmer and his colleagues looked at 64 patients who reported having significant ringing in their ears. As a measure of control, the researchers split them up in two (2) groups – half of them were given 2.000 transcranial magnetic simulation pulses every day, for a period of ten (10) days, the other half were given a placebo. A typical therapy session lasted somewhere around 35 minutes.
For the next six (6) months the tests subjects were asked to periodically fill out a set of questioners which addressed the intensity of their tinnitus.
The results were that 56 percent (56%) of the patients who received the real treatment showed signs of improvement by the time the 10th session was over. For comparison, only 22 percent (22%) of the patients who received the fake treatment showed signs of improvement by the time the 10th session was over.
These results were so unexpected and positive that even Folmer and his team were surprised that patients maintained their improvement all through the six (6) months allocated to follow-ups. The initial theory was that if patients showed any improvement, it would most likely be for a short period of time.
On top of everything, people kept improving over the course of the six (6) months as well. By the time the last day of the follow-up period ended, 66 percent (66%) of the patients who received the real treatment and 38 percent (38%) of the patients who received the fake treatment showed signs of improvement.
The study was published in the in the journal JAMA Otolaryngology-Head and Neck Surgery.
Image Source: nationalgeographic.de