Tinnitus patients are very different from one another, and so is their treatment

One in six adults suffers from tinnitus. Patients experience a sound that is not actually present in the environment. For some it’s more like a constant beep, others complain about a ringing bell or noisy jackhammers.

The effect of the condition can vary widely. It can lead to sleep problems and difficulties concentrating, but also to anxiety and depression. There are already many treatments that can reduce this effect, but tinnitus is not yet curable. Scientists have been looking for new treatments for years.

Brain stimulation

Researchers from the University of Antwerp and the University of UZA studied whether stimulating the brains of tinnitus patients with an electric current could provide solace. Tinnitus is associated with disturbed activity in the brain and they wanted to see if this technique could change brain activity in a way that stopped the symptoms. The painless technique has already been used successfully for other complaints such as chronic pain.

In a large-scale double-blind study, researchers administered an electric current to their brains via small electrodes on their heads in six 30-minute sessions to 38 patients with tinnitus. They compared its effect to giving a placebo to the brains of 39 other patients.

While they did not find evidence that brain stimulation had a better effect overall than a placebo, they did note that there were significant differences between patients’ outcomes. Men and previously anxious patients experienced significant improvement in tinnitus symptoms after treatment, while others experienced no effect at all from the stimulation.

According to researcher Emily Cardone, stimulating the brain with electrical current is not a universal solution for all patients with tinnitus, nor is it realistic to think that there will be a standard treatment that can cure everyone for tinnitus. She calls for researchers to pay more attention to mutual differences between patients and focus more on personalized medicine, as they examine more specifically who benefits from which treatment.

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