Precisely timed sound stimulation coupled with weak electrical pulses delivered to the neck or cheeks could bring relief from tinnitus. This is the potentially ground-breaking news from researchers at the University of Michigan. Let’s start at the beginning, shall we?
A research group at the University of Michigan led by Susan Shore understood that the fusiform cells of the dorsal cochlear nucleus were a source of tinnitus. These cells, when hyperactive can send synchronized signals spontaneously to the rest of the hearing centers that is perceived as tinnitus. Exposure to loud noise could put the fusiform cells of the dorsal cochlear nucleus in this state of synchronized hyperactivity. The ill-effects are felt by our patients.
By delivering precisely timed sounds coupled with weak electrical pulses, Susan Shore, and her colleagues demonstrated a reduction in this hyperactivity in guinea pigs. They have more recently documented substantial relief from tinnitus using this technique in a double-blinded, placebo-controlled trial in 20 human subjects. A more extensive clinical trial, funded by the NIH, is currently underway.
If this technique stands the test of a more rigorous clinical trial, it will open a new door for many of our patients who suffer with tinnitus. Perhaps just as importantly, delivering sound and weak electrical pulses would be old hat for us audiologists. Remember the galvanic skin response?
University of Michigan. (2018) Specially timed signals ease tinnitus symptoms in test aimed at condition’s root cause. January 3.
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