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Finnish research looks to magnetic stimulation tech in fight against tinnitus

It's estimated half a million people in Finland suffer from tinnitus, an imagined, constant cacophony that sufferers "hear," even in total silence.

tinnitus
File illustration of human brain. Image: A. Danti/Fotolia.com

A recent patient trial and research carried out at south-west Finland's Turku University Hospital may provide a glimpse of hope for sufferers of tinnitus.

Last month ear, nose and throat specialist Hanna Sahlsten published a doctoral thesis about a small-scale trial carried out at the hospital which aimed to see whether transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) technology could be used to treat tinnitus symptoms. The trial's results were promising, according to Sahlsten.

"The treatment works best for people with severe tinnitus, and can make their lives much better," she said.

There is no known cure for tinnitus - often caused by noise-induced hearing loss, damage from ear infections and heart disease. Tinnitus isn't a disease in itself, but rather a symptom. Until recently, little progress has been made in curbing its ill effects.

It's estimated about 10-15 percent of the world's population has tinnitus to varying degrees. In its most severe form, sufferers can face with sleeping difficulties and psychological problems.

Promising trial

TMS is a painless, non-invasive form of brain stimulation that uses pinpointed magnetic fields to create electrical currents.

When used to combat tinnitus, the TMS is targeted to the part of the brain in an effort to make it stop "hearing" the sounds created by damaged hearing nerves.

The 13 patients who underwent TMS therapy in the trial showed positive results. Ten of the patients said their symptoms decreased by an average of 39-45 percent.

Sahlsten said that more research is needed before any conclusions can be drawn, but said it is already clear that many patients were greatly helped by the therapy.

TMS has also been used for the treatment of depression in patients who are unresponsive to anti-depressant medication and to treat neuropathic pain, according to Professor Satu Jääskeläinen from Turku University's clinical neurophysiology department.

In her doctoral summary, Sahlsten noted there's a chance that the depressive symptoms that tinnitus sufferers often also have may be alleviated by the TMS therapy as well.

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