Auckland scientists develop new cellphone-based therapy for tinnitus

After 20 years of searching for a cure for tinnitus, researchers at the University of Auckland are excited about the ‘encouraging results’ of a clinical trial of a cellphone-based therapy. The study randomized 61 patients to one of two treatments, the prototype of the new “digital combination therapy” or a popular white noise self-help app.

On average, the group with the polytherapeutic (31 people) showed clinically significant improvements at 12 weeks, while the other group (30 people) did not. The results have just been published in Frontiers in Neurology. “This is more important than some of our previous work and is likely to have a direct impact on the future treatment of tinnitus,” said Associate Professor of Audiology Grant Searchfield.

Key to the new treatment is an initial assessment by an audiologist who crafts the personalized treatment plan, combining a range of digital tools, based on the individual’s tinnitus experience.

Previous trials have shown that white noise, goal-oriented counseling, goal-oriented games, and other technology-based therapies are effective for some people from time to time. It’s faster and more effective, taking 12 weeks instead of 12 months for more individuals to gain some control.”

Grant Searchfield, Professor, Audiology, University of Auckland

There is no pill that can cure tinnitus. “What this therapy does is essentially rewire the brain in a way that reduces the sound of tinnitus to background noise that has no meaning or relevance to the listener,” says Dr. Searchfield.

Audiology researcher Dr. Phil Sanders says the results are exciting and he found completing the trial personally rewarding.

“Sixty-five percent of participants reported improvement. For some people, it was life-changing – where tinnitus took over their lives and attention.”

Some people haven’t noticed an improvement, and their feedback will inform further customization, says Dr. Sanders.

Tinnitus is phantom noise and its causes are complex. It has so far defied effective treatment.

While most people experience tinnitus or ringing in the ears at least occasionally, around 5% experience it to some distressing degree. Impacts can include trouble sleeping, difficulty performing daily tasks, and depression.

Dr Searchfield says seeing the distress of his patients and not having an effective treatment to offer inspired his research. “I wanted to make a difference.”

The next step will be to refine the prototype and conduct larger local and international trials for FDA approval.

The researchers expect the application to be clinically available in about six months.


Journal reference:

Search field, GD, et al. (2022) A single-blind randomized controlled trial of a prototype digital polytherapeutic for tinnitus. Frontiers in Neurology.

Irene B. Bowles