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New Device Could Provide Long-Term Relief from Tinnitus Symptoms

Older Black woman touching her hear with a painful expression on her face.

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Key Takeaways

  • A new study shows that 86% of compliant study participants found tinnitus relief using a process called bimodal neuromodulation.
  • Of the participants who found relief, 66% continued to experience lasting improvement for a year.
  • The device, Lenire, is not yet approved for use in the United States.

In the largest clinical trial of its kind, researchers have discovered that a device combining sound and tongue stimulation can provide significant relief for people with tinnitus, also known as “ringing in the ears.” The study was sponsored by Neuromod Devices and published in Science Translational Medicine in early October.

The study, which was conducted in both Ireland and Germany, tracked its subjects for 12 months post-treatment. It was the first tinnitus study to access long-term outcomes of a medical device. 

The research's findings showed that 86% of participants who reached the desired compliance level by using the device experienced symptom improvement. Of those participants, 66% reported the relief lasted for up to one year.

The device, now branded as Lenire,­ was developed by Neuromod Devices. It uses "bimodal neuromodulation" to motivate therapeutic neuroplasticity, which helps the brain adapt to a new experience. The device achieves this in two steps: by sending sound stimulation to the ear with Bluetooth enabled headphones and by sending electric stimulation to the tongue using a small hand-held device.

Participants experienced significant symptom relief when using the device with guidance from a trained professional for 60 minutes a day for 12 weeks (36 hours total). 

“After other causes are ruled out, such as a medical illness or tumor, then Lenire can become another successful tool to treat and reduce symptoms of tinnitus.” Hubert Lim, PhD, senior author of the study and associate professor in the department of otolaryngology, head, and neck surgery at the University of Minnesota, tells Verywell. 

What Is Tinnitus?

Tinnitus is defined by the American Tinnitus Association (ATA) as the perception of sound when no actual external noise is present. Rather than being a disease in and of itself, tinnitus is a symptom of an underlying medical condition. Tinnitus can be acute (temporary) or chronic (ongoing).

While “ringing in the ears” has been used to describe tinnitus, many people report hearing a cacophony of sounds such as buzzing, hissing, whistling, swooshing, and clicking.

The majority of cases are classified as subjective tinnitus, in which the noises heard in the head or ears are only perceived by the specific patient. This type of tinnitus is often linked to hearing loss but can be triggered by an array of causes.

The most common causes include:

COVID-19 and Tinnitus

Reports have surfaced that suggest tinnitus could be a lasting complication of COVID-19, but these reports are minimal and more research is needed.

“Data is still early on the links between COVID-19 and tinnitus,” Lim says. “COVID-19 treatments might lead to tinnitus, but isolation, depression, and anxiety due to the pandemic might lead to those with tinnitus to be more focused on it, might lead to an increase in symptoms. A lot of this is happening.”

Tinnitus is mostly subjective, which means it can be tricky to diagnose the condition. According to the ATA, an assessment by a trained audiologist is often necessary to determine the underlying cause. The assessment can include a speech recognition test, pure tone audiogram, tympanogram, acoustic reflex testing, and otoacoustic emission testing.

There is no cure for tinnitus, but there are several treatment options, including:

  • Behavioral therapies: Tinnitus can cause depression, anxiety, and anger. Patients might find behavior control tools helpful for reducing their negative emotional response to the condition.
  • General wellness: Your overall health and well-being affect the intensity of tinnitus. Improving diet, physical exercise, social activity, hobbies, and stress reduction can help manage tinnitus. Some people try natural remedies for tinnitus.
  • Hearing aids: The majority of tinnitus symptoms are linked to hearing loss. Some patients benefit from hearing aids.
  • Sound therapies: Patients might find relief using external noise and sounds to counteract their perception and response to tinnitus.

The Need for New Treatments

Bimodal neuromodulation as a possible treatment for tinnitus is an exciting clinical finding. However, Lim—who is also the chief scientific officer of Neuromod Device—explains that not everyone with the condition will experience improvement when using the device, and additional research is needed.

“It doesn’t fully suppress tinnitus. Not everyone benefited. Some saw improvement and some saw only slight improvement.” says Lim. 

Lenire has been approved as a tinnitus treatment option in Europe, but it has not yet been approved in the United States and is pending further research.

“As a clinician and scientist, I’m always open to novel approaches when it comes to tinnitus management.” Christopher Spankovich, AuD, PhD, MPH, associate professor and vice-chair of research in the department of otolaryngology and communicative sciences at the University of Mississippi Medical Center, tells Verywell. “But my enthusiasm with this study is tempered as it lacked a placebo control and a comparison to other methods to treat tinnitus.”

Future Research

Around 45 million Americans have tinnitus, and a treatment using bimodal neuromodulation could relieve symptoms for some of them. Lim says that the next step will be to study how bimodal neuromodulation changes the brain and determine which patients will benefit most from the treatment.

“My vision for this device is for it to be available for online purchase with the guidance of a trained professional,” says Lim. “I would like it to be automated, mainstream, low cost, and provide more benefit to those suffering with tinnitus.”

Research is currently halted due to COVID-19 and 50% of the lab is shut down. The researchers are hoping to resume their studies in the spring.

What This Means For You

Tinnitus is not a disease but, rather, a symptom of an underlying medical condition. If you are experiencing acute or chronic tinnitus, ask your health care provider if you need to be assessed by a trained audiologist. While there is currently no cure for tinnitus, there are treatments.

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  1. Conlon B, Langguth B, Hamilton C, Hughes S, Meade E, Connor CO, et al. Bimodal neuromodulation combining sound and tongue stimulation reduces tinnitus symptoms in a large randomized clinical study. Science Transl Med. abb2830. doi: 10.1126/scitranslmed.abb2830

  2. Neuromod Devices. Neuromod. Updated 2020.

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  5. Munro, KJ, Uus K, Almufarrij I, Chaudhuri N, Yioe V. Persistent self-reported changes in hearing and tinnitus in post-hospitalisation COVID-19 casesInter J Audiol. 2020. doi:10.1080/14992027.2020.1798519

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