Researchers have found that people reported just as much bothersome
ringing after a month of so-called repetitive transcranial magnetic simulation
(rTMS) as after a series of fake, magnet-free treatments.
Although it seems natural that ringing in the ears - known
as tinnitus - would be a hearing-related problem, so far medications and
magnetic stimulation targeting the brain's auditory areas haven't made the
sound go away, according to Dr Jay Piccirillo.
Easing the tingling
"People want a pill to make it go away, but there isn't
anything like that," Piccirillo, an otolaryngologist from the Washington
University School of Medicine in St Louis, told Reuters Health. "There's
no cure for tinnitus."Up to 50 million Americans report chronic ringing in
the ears at some point during their lives, research suggests.
Although that experience is common, Piccirillo said only
about one-fifth of people who do hear ringing are bothered by it enough to
disrupt their everyday lives. Current treatments for those individuals include
devices to mask the sound, antidepressants to lessen its bothersome effects or
talk therapy, yoga and meditation.
In Europe, doctors have been using rTMS to create electrical
currents in the auditory nerve for people with tinnitus, seeing a "mild to
moderate, short-lasting effect," according to Piccirillo. He and his
colleagues previously tested two weeks of rTMS treatments on people with
tinnitus and found it had no benefit
For the new study,
they gave 14 people with tinnitus four weeks of rTMS and four weeks of a sham,
magnet-free treatment. Study participants reported having had tinnitus for at
least six months and started out with an average tinnitus handicap score of 52
on a scale from 0 to 100.
That score dropped by an average of 10 points after rTMS and
by six points after the sham treatment - a difference that could have been due
to chance, the study team reported in JAMA Otolaryngology - Head & Neck
Mechanisms are unclear
Researchers believe tinnitus is the result of over-activity
in certain areas of the brain - and in theory, rTMS should suppress some of
that activity, according to Josef Rauschecker, from Georgetown University
Medical Center in Washington, DC However, "Neurophysiologically, it's not
at all clear what it does," Rauschecker, who has studied that question but
wasn't part of the study team, told Reuters Health.
John Rothwell, who has researched brain stimulation for
tinnitus at University College London, said a number of small studies have
looked at this treatment and all have the same problem: the response to
stimulation varies greatly from one person to the next. "You'll find in
all of these trials, some people will get better, some people will get worse
and most will stay the same," Rothwell, who also wasn't involved in the
new research, told Reuters Health.