Tinnitus is the sensation of hearing ringing or buzzing in the ears that has no external source. It is thought to affect more than 7 million people in the UK.

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Around one in 20 people with tinnitus experience it to a distressing degree, leading to them having trouble sleeping, difficulty carrying out daily tasks and suffering from depression.

There is currently no cure and few effective treatments.

Now, researchers form the University of Auckland, New Zealand have developed a smartphone app-based treatment that successfully relieved the symptoms of 65 per cent of the participants in a small trial.

The study randomly assigned 61 volunteers suffering from tinnitus one of two 12-week treatment programmes – the new smartphone app-based treatment or a popular self-help app that aims to lessen the symptoms of tinnitus using white noise.

Those receiving the new treatment underwent an initial assessment by an audiologist who developed a personalised treatment plan based on their individual experience of tinnitus.

The app contained a mix of passive and active listening tasks along with written counselling material. The participants were also given Bluetooth bone conduction headphones and a neck pillow speaker to listen to it.

They found that 65 per cent of the volunteers undergoing the new treatment reported significant improvements in their symptoms while those using the white noise app reported no improvement.

“Earlier trials have found white noise, goal-based counselling, goal-oriented games and other technology-based therapies are effective for some people some of the time,” said Dr Grant Searchfield, an associate professor in Audiology at the University of Auckland.

“This is quicker and more effective, taking 12 weeks rather than 12 months for more individuals to gain some control.”

“What this therapy does is essentially rewire the brain in a way that de-emphasises the sound of the tinnitus to a background noise that has no meaning or relevance to the listener.”

The team now plan to refine the treatment and carry out larger trials. They hope to have the app clinically available within the next six months.

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Authors

Jason Goodyer
Jason GoodyerCommissioning editor, BBC Science Focus

Jason is the commissioning editor for BBC Science Focus. He holds an MSc in physics and was named Section Editor of the Year by the British Society of Magazine Editors in 2019. He has been reporting on science and technology for more than a decade. During this time, he's walked the tunnels of the Large Hadron Collider, watched Stephen Hawking deliver his Reith Lecture on Black Holes and reported on everything from simulation universes to dancing cockatoos. He looks after the magazine’s and website’s news sections and makes regular appearances on the Instant Genius Podcast.

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