A limited study using transcranial magnetic stimulation (rTMS) to a tinnitus patient’s scalp is showing promise in reducing symptoms. While some headlines will point to a cure for tinnitus using electromagnetic pulses, it simply isn’t the case.

Published in JAMA Otolaryngology-Head & Neck Surgery, researchers were quick to point out while the treatment was shown to be successful, it was not a replacement for current treatment protocols.

“We do not believe that rTMS should be viewed as a replacement for effective tinnitus management strategies that are available now. Instead, rTMS could augment existing tinnitus therapies and provide a viable option for patients who do not respond favorably to other treatments.”

Research has pointed to increased activity in the auditory cortex region of the brain as the possible root of people suffering from tinnitus. People not suffering from tinnitus, an increase in activity was not observed in scans.

In past studies, using low-frequency rTMS was shown to reduce activity occurring in this region of the brain.

Using previous studies as a base, lead author Robert Folmer, from the Portland Veterans Affairs Medical Center and Oregon Health and Science University, decided to test the therapy in tinnitus patients.

70 patients took part in the study and were randomly assigned a placebo rTMS or an active rTMS treatment. The treatment protocol breakdown was 2,000 pulses per session over a 10-day duration. Patients were then evaluated at the 1, 2, 4, 13 and 26-week mark after the end of the treatment. Each had their tinnitus measured on the Tinnitus Functional Index.

Tinnitus Study Results

Those receiving the active rTMS treatment showed a 31 percent reduction in their tinnitus symptoms (Tinnitus Functional Index scale) at the 26-week mark. Patients on the placebo saw a seven percent decrease. 56 percent of participants in the active treatment group responded to the treatment while 22 percent responded in the placebo-controlled group.

While the study was small, the team is already planning to expand the trial and look at whether the treatment has lasting benefits out to the 12-month mark. Further study will also determine how many treatments a patient should have and the duration of each session.

“If rTMS continues to demonstrate efficacy as a treatment for tinnitus, future investigations should include multisite clinical trials. If these larger clinical trials replicate efficacy of rTMS that has been demonstrated in the present study, then steps should be taken to implement the procedure as a clinical treatment for chronic tinnitus.”

What is Tinnitus

If you have ever felt the sensation of your ears ringing without a logical source, you’ve experienced tinnitus. It affects around 1 in 5 people and is can be a symptom of underlying health conditions such as ear injuries. 20 percent of those with chronic tinnitus say their problem is clinically significant and negatively impacts their quality of life

tinnitus treatments

Treatments for tinnitus include medications to alleviate the severity of symptoms, noise suppression and hopefully rTMS.

Is the rTMS treatment a cure for tinnitus? For now, scientists just don’t know. Research is just beginning but already shows promise to chronic patients who are not responding to other treatments.

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