Tinnitus is a debilitating condition wherein an individual often hears a ringing or clicking sound even though there are no external sources of the sound present. It currently affects an estimated 45 million people, mostly veteran soldiers, living in the United States, according to the American Tinnitus Association (ATA), and a proven cure for the condition is yet to be developed.
This is what inspired a team of researchers from the Oregon Health & Science University (OHSU) and the Veterans Affairs (VA) Portland Medical Center, who were able to discover a potential cure for tinnitus in the form of transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS).
In a study featured in the journal JAMA Otolaryngology - Head & Neck Surgery, OHSU researcher Dr. Robert L. Folmer and his colleagues studied the effects of a system for transcranial magnetic stimulation on patients suffering from tinnitus.
The system produces a magnetic field shaped like a cone that can penetrate the scalp and skull of an individual in order to interact with tissues in the brain. By increasing the intensity of the simulation, the deeper the TMS system's magnetic field penetrates the head of the patient and affects the activity of neurons.
As of the moment, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (USFDA) has only approved the use of the TMS system for treating depression.
The researchers conducted clinical tests on 64 people diagnosed with tinnitus to find out the effects of the TMS system on their condition. To participate in the study, patients had to have symptoms of tinnitus a minimum of one full year.
The participants were given one TMS pulse each second, designed to target the brain's auditory cortex. The TMS sessions ran for 10 straight workdays, in which all of the participants received 2,000 TMS pulses in each session.
Out of the 32 individuals who were given an active TMS treatment, 18 of them discovered that their tinnitus symptoms were considerably lessened for six months.
The findings also showed that many of the tinnitus patients who have had the condition for over 20 years experienced a significant reduction of symptoms.
"For some study participants, this was the first time in years that they experienced any relief in symptoms," Folmer said.
"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."
Folmer and his colleagues believe that a larger clinical trial could help refine the protocols needed to use TMS for clinical applications.
Photo: Allan Ajifo | Flickr