Whether it’s a ringing or perpetual buzzing sound, tinnitus is a common and often debilitating condition. Researchers now claim to have designed an application capable of reducing its impact.
Tinnitus is the perception of sounds that are not the result of an external source and that affect 7.6 million people in the UK, although fewer suffer from severe tinnitus.
Although there is no cure, there are several ways to manage the condition, including cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT). This helps people reduce their emotional connection to the sound, allowing the brain to learn to ignore it. However, CBT can be expensive and difficult for people to access.
Researchers created an app, called MindEar, that offers CBT via a chatbot along with other approaches such as sound therapy.
“What we want to do is allow people to take back control,” said Dr Fabrice Bardy, first author of the study from the University of Auckland – who suffers from tinnitus.
Write in the journal Frontiers in audiology and otology, Bardy and colleagues report how 28 people completed the study, 14 of whom were asked to use the app’s virtual coach 10 minutes a day for eight weeks. The other 14 participants received similar instructions with four half-hour video calls with a clinical psychologist.
Participants completed online questionnaires before the study and after the eight-week period. Results reveal that six participants who received the app alone, and nine who also received video calls, showed a clinically significant decrease in tinnitus distress, with the extent of benefit being similar for both groups. After an additional eight weeks, a total of nine participants in both groups reported such improvements.
Brady said the team hoped to determine whether some people benefit more than others from the additional support of a clinical psychologist, adding that it could be that some people experience tinnitus as well as anxiety, stress or sleep disturbances, meaning additional help was needed.
The team is about to launch a larger clinical trial of the app with University College London (UCL) Hospital. Dr Lucy Handscomb from the UCL Ear Institute, who is taking part in the trial, said face-to-face help for tinnitus was not easily accessible, while patients often felt an increase in anxiety while waiting for a treatment.
“I hope that by giving people access to this very carefully designed intervention early on in their tinnitus journey, they will never be able to get into some of the negative thought cycles that so often occur and will be able to live well with their tinnitus from the beginning,” she said. “I don’t see MindEar as a replacement for in-person tinnitus treatment, but I think it could be a very valuable addition to it.”
The app is not the first of its kind. The Oto tinnitus app, among others, is the subject of a large clinical trial in the United Kingdom.
Matthew Smith, consultant ENT surgeon at Cambridge University Hospitals NHS Trust, who is taking part in the trial, said the apps could offer a valuable way to tackle tinnitus, including opening up the treatment to a wider audience. number of patients. He also urged caution, emphasizing that CBT was only one aspect of tinnitus treatment.
“The provision of hearing aids is an important part of tinnitus treatment for some people, which poses a challenge for remote treatment,” he said. “(An) app alone is not a one-size-fits-all solution for all tinnitus, but it could provide valuable therapy for patients with this condition.”