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Sensory device stimulates ears and tongue to treat tinnitus in large trial

American Association for the Advancement of Science

Research News

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IMAGE: A schematic showing the bimodal neuromodulation device. Wireless headphones delivered sounds, while a small electrode array stimulated the tongue with different patterns. This material relates to a paper that appeared... view more 

Credit: B. Conlon et al., Science Translational Medicine (2020)

A device that stimulates the ears and tongue substantially reduced the severity of tinnitus symptoms in 326 patients for as long as 1 year, while achieving high patient satisfaction and adherence. The study - one of the largest clinical trials of a tinnitus treatment to date - indicates the bimodal technique could potentially provide the first effective, clinically viable device for tinnitus, which affects up to 15% of the population. This irritating auditory disorder manifests when patients perceive phantom noises such as ringing without any external input. Despite its high prevalence and potentially debilitating nature, there are no approved medical devices or drug treatments that can provide relief to patients. However, recent research in animals has shown that stimulating the auditory nervous system through sounds and electricity improved symptoms. Based on these promising results, Brendan Conlon and colleagues used a non-invasive stimulating device, which delivers sound to the ears through headphones and stimulates the tongue with low amounts of electricity. In a randomized trial of 326 patients with different types of tinnitus, the authors instructed the patients to use the device for 60 minutes daily for 12 weeks. The device reduced tinnitus symptoms, and these improvements persisted throughout a 12-month follow-up period. The team notes they are currently conducting another large clinical trial to study the effects of changing the stimulation protocol over time.

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