Millions of people suffer from tinnitus to the point of distraction. Constant ear ringing, dizziness, headaches, and head pressure make it difficult to concentrate or function normally. Now, scientists believe they can relieve tinnitus symptoms through a nerve stimulation treatment already approved for epilepsy.
Tinnitus is a neurological condition, so it’s no surprise that scientists from the University of Texas at Dallas’ School of Behavioral and Brain Sciences are testing the effects of vagus nerve stimulation (VNS) and auditory tones on people experiencing severe tinnitus- persistent ear ringing, buzzing sounds, headaches, vertigo, and ear pressure.
Already approved by the FDA for treating depression and epilepsy, scientists are trying to determine if VNS-tone therapy can also be used safely for sufferers of chronic tinnitus.
Vagus nerve stimulation works by emitting mild electrical currents through the vagus nerve, eliciting a response from the brain. By pairing VNS with auditory sounds, doctors hope to effectively reduce tinnitus noises.
“VNS-tone therapy was expected to be safe because it requires less than 1 percent of the VNS approved by the FDA for the treatment of intractable epilepsy and depression,” says co-author Dr. Sven Vanneste. “There were no significant adverse events in our study.”
For the study, 10 tinnitus patients accepted electrode implants on the vagus nerve.
All study participants had suffered from constant tinnitus for at least one year, and have not benefited from previous attempts to reduce tinnitus.
Participants received 2 ½ hours of tinnitus therapy every day for 20 days.
Scientists used a remote device to apply mild electrical pulses.
Half of all tinnitus sufferers noted significant improvement following the 20-day therapy, and three in particular reported a 44% reduction in tinnitus-related stress or handicap.
Four patients reported that tinnitus noise decreased by 26 decibels.
Scientists believe that certain drugs may interfere with VNS-tone therapy for tinnitus.
The results are promising; even more than two months after the trial, four out of ten tinnitus patients continued to enjoy a reduction in tinnitus symptoms, say scientists.
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