A multinational research consortium has demonstrated the potential for significant reduction in the impact of tinnitus within a matter of weeks through a training program and sound therapy delivered via a smartphone app.
The collaborative effort, comprising researchers from Australian, New Zealand, French, and Belgian universities, has published their findings in Frontiers in Audiology and Otology. In an initial trial involving 30 individuals with tinnitus, nearly two-thirds reported a ‘clinically significant improvement.’ The team is now set to conduct larger trials in the UK in partnership with University College London Hospital. The smartphone app, named MindEar, is accessible for individuals to try out on their own devices.
Tinnitus, a prevalent condition affecting up to one in four people, can manifest in various age groups, including children. While it may spontaneously resolve for some, it can profoundly disrupt the lives of others, impacting hearing, mood, concentration, sleep, and, in severe cases, contributing to anxiety or depression.
The effectiveness of the MindEar approach lies in understanding the brain’s innate ability to filter out irrelevant sounds. From the womb, our brains learn to ignore noises like the blood circulating in our ears. As we age, we further refine this ability to filter out environmental sounds. However, unlike external alarms that trigger an alert response, tinnitus generates an internal sound without any external source or imminent danger, eliciting a similar alert response.
MindEar operates on the premise that by actively training individuals to reduce their attention to tinnitus, the brain can be conditioned to tune it out more effectively. The app facilitates this through a focused training program, helping users practice concentration and equipping the mind and body to mitigate stress responses, consequently diminishing the brain’s fixation on tinnitus.
While tinnitus itself is not a standalone disease but often a symptom of an underlying health issue, such as auditory system damage or head and neck tension, there is no universally recognized cure. Nevertheless, management strategies and techniques can offer relief for many sufferers. The MindEar team, buoyed by the positive outcomes of their trial, is optimistic about providing a more accessible, rapidly available, and effective tool for the numerous individuals grappling with tinnitus and awaiting support.
Developed based on the collaborative efforts of audiologists (Dr. Laure Jacquemin, Dr. Michael Maslin), psychologists (Prof. Suzanne Purdy and Dr. Cara Wong), and ENT specialists (Prof. Hung Thai Van), MindEar represents a promising avenue in tinnitus management. The team, led by Dr. Fabrice Bardy at the University of Auckland, envisions it as a valuable addition to the existing array of tools for those affected by tinnitus.