A number of attempts are underway to use neural stimulation to modulate tinnitus perception, including sound stimulation paired with somatosensory stimulation. The effectiveness of these treatments has been variable. It is well described in the literature that cochlear implants can often provide some level of tinnitus suppression, when the implant is being utilized. However, the invasiveness of the procedure and risk for further damage to the cochlea, make its application for tinnitus management alone currently implausible. Nonetheless, the suppression provided by cochlear implants suggests a plausible strategy, if a minimally invasive approach can be developed.
Zeng et al (2019) explore multiple approaches using electrical stimulation for tinnitus suppression. Their non-invasive approach used an electric stimulation of the external ear canal. The minimally invasive approach involved transtympanic placement of the electrode on the promontory of the cochlea. In 10 subjects, they examined several stimulus conditions using the non-invasive and minimally invasive approach. For a total of 19 conditions, 12 conditions produced some degree of tinnitus suppression, 6 had no effect, and 1 increased tinnitus perception. It should be noted that there were significant and widespread side effects from the electrical stimulation from slight tingling sensation to pain, as well as, visual sensations, vestibular responses, and muscle activation.
The application of electrical stimulation for management of tinnitus may offer some promise for tinnitus patients. Parametric and side effects issues will need to be resolved, which are likely further complicated by the heterogenous nature of tinnitus and likely need for individualized parameters.
Zeng R, Tran L, Djalilian H. (2019) Tinnitus treatment using noninvasive and minimally invasive electric stimulation: Experimental design and feasibility. Trends Hear. January 9.
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