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Magnetic pulses to brain may help treat tinnitus

Magnetic pulses to the brain can deliver long-lasting relief for tinnitus patients, according to results from a promising clinical trial in the US.

Washington: Magnetic pulses to the brain can deliver long-lasting relief for tinnitus patients, according to results from a promising clinical trial in the US.

Researchers at the Veterans Affairs Portland Medical Centre and Oregon Health & Science University found that transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) significantly improved tinnitus symptoms for more than half of study participants.

"For some study participants, this was the first time in years that they experienced any relief in symptoms," said Robert L Folmer, research investigator with the National Center for Rehabilitative Auditory Research at the VA Portland Health Care System.

"These promising results bring us closer to developing a long-sought treatment for this condition that affects an enormous number of Americans, including many men and women who have served in our armed forces," said Folmer, who is also associate professor of Otolarynology/Head and Neck Surgery in the OHSU School of Medicine.

People with tinnitus hear a persistent sound - that can range from ringing or buzzing to a hissing or white noise hum - when there is no external sound source. The distraction can impair people's ability to sleep or concentrate and is sometimes disabling.

Currently, there are no proven treatments available. So, patients with the condition often develop coping strategies to manage their reaction to tinnitus.

To conduct this research, Folmer and colleagues, including Sarah Theodoroff, used a TMS system that generates a cone-shaped magnetic field that penetrates the scalp and skull to interact with brain tissue.

The higher the stimulation intensity, the deeper the magnetic field can penetrate and affect neural activity. Currently, the Food and Drug Administration has approved transcranial magnetic stimulation only for treatment of depression.

The study participants were a mix of veterans and non-veterans.

All 64 participants enrolled in the study received one pulse of TMS per second to their skull just above the ear to target the auditory cortex in the brain. Participants underwent TMS sessions on 10 consecutive workdays, receiving 2,000 pulses of TMS per session.

Of the 32 participants who received the "active" TMS treatment, 18 people found their symptoms were alleviated for at least six months. To participate in the study, patients were required to have had tinnitus for at least a year or more.

A significant number of participants who had tinnitus for more than 20 years were pleased to receive some relief from TMS treatment. In light of these encouraging results, Folmer hopes to conduct a larger clinical trial to refine protocols for the eventual clinical use of TMS for tinnitus.

The findings were published in the journal JAMA Otolaryngology - Head & Neck Surgery.  

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