Deep brain stimulation to treat severe tinnitus: encouraging results

Results defined in the press release as “encouraging” were obtained by a group of researchers from the University of California at San Francisco and the Veterans Affairs Health Care System regarding a new type of treatment for severe tinnitus.

The researchers used deep brain stimulation to treat severe refractory tinnitus on a group of patients. These initial results are the basis of a study published today in the Journal of Neurosurgery.

Tinnitus is a particular ear disorder that causes the patient to hear noises even without any stimulation from the outside. These noises can be represented by buzzing, hissing, pulsations, and similar noises. If in most cases the symptoms are not particularly bothersome and do not require treatment, in some cases tinnitus can be quite intrusive and serious.

There are some therapies that can help reduce the perceived sound range even if for many patients there is basically no cure. Deep brain stimulation is performed to treat various movement disorders as well as various psychological disorders. The treatment involves surgery with electrodes attached to the brain in particular areas where normal electrical impulses are interrupted.

These areas are connected to a pulse generator that can also be implanted in the body, for example under the skin. This generator provides a small electrical stimulation to these areas of the brain through the cables that lead to the electrodes.

The researchers used this technique on a group of three men and two women with a mean age of 51 years suffering from severe tinnitus in both ears for four of five patients and in one ear for another patient. Patients underwent stereotactic neurosurgery for electrode implantation in the caudate nucleus on each side of the brain.

After five weeks they started a stimulation period to find an optimal setting to reduce the tinnitus severity. This period was quite long and lasted from 5 to 13 months depending on the needs of each patient.

Once the correct degree of stimulation was found, a third phase of 24 weeks began which saw constant stimulation. According to the press release, this technique proved “effective in reducing the negative tinnitus experience” for four out of five patients.

Now the researchers intend to investigate the usefulness of this method with new studies also to shorten the period of optimization of the stimulation level to make it shorter.

By Bob Miller

Bob was Professor of Behavioural Neuroscience at the University of Denver from 2011-2018 and now works as a practicing psychiatrist. As a passionate scientist, he founded the website in early 2019 with the goal of delivering accurate and useful scientific reporting, and has since built it up as a valuable publication. While his field is in psychology, Bob also has a strong general understanding of many other fields in health, astronomy and applied science, and is able to write in a way that is easily understandable to the layman.

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