Tinnitus, which affects over 45 million people in the United States, is notoriously difficult to treat. Patients with the condition are often left on their own to develop coping strategies to manage their tinnitus symptoms, which include hearing a continual sound, anything from ringing or buzzing to a hissing or white noise hum, when there is no external sound source.
In news that may give hopes for relief to many, researchers at the VA Portland Medical Center and Oregon Health & Science University recently found that transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) significantly alleviated tinnitus symptoms for over half of the study participants.
Robert L. Folmer, Ph.D., researcher with the National Center for Rehabilitative Auditory Research at the VA Portland Health Care System and associate professor of Otolarynology/Head and Neck Surgery in the OHSU School of Medicine, said:
“For some study participants, this was the first time in years that they experienced any relief in symptoms. These promising results bring us closer to developing a long-sought treatment for this condition that affects an enormous number of Americans, including many men and women who have served in our armed forces.”
Nearly 15 percent of Americans, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, experience some form of tinnitus. Currently, there are no proven treatments available. The distraction can impair people’s ability to sleep or concentrate and is sometimes disabling.
Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation
For the study, Folmer and colleagues, including Sarah Theodoroff, Ph.D., utilized a TMS system that generates a cone-shaped magnetic field. The field penetrates the scalp and skull and interacts with brain tissue.
The higher the stimulation intensity, the deeper the magnetic field can penetrate and affect neural activity. Currently, the Food and Drug Administration has approved transcranial magnetic stimulation only for treatment of depression.
The study involved 64 participants who received one pulse of TMS per second to their skull just above the ear, in order to target the auditory cortex in the brain.
Participants underwent TMS sessions on 10 consecutive workdays, and received 2,000 pulses of TMS per session.
Of the 32 participants who received the “active” TMS treatment, 18 people found their symptoms were alleviated for at least six months. Patients were required to have had tinnitus for at least a year to take part in the study.