Tinnitus, the condition that causes constant ringing or buzzing in the ears, has long been a mystery. Recently, scientists have learned that shocking the tongue can relieve symptoms over a longer period of time.
The biomedical engineer Hubert Lim discovered this by chance. While experimenting with a technique called deep brain stimulation to restore his patient’s hearing, He inserted a stick with multiple electrodes into five of his patients’ brains. In doing so, some of the electrodes landed just outside their target zone (which is not unusual). As the experiment continued, one of the patients who had had tinnitus for a very long time exclaimed, “Oh, my tinnitus! I cannot hear my tinnitus. “
When it comes to tinnitus, in many cases the culprit is the brain, noticing sounds that aren’t there and are typically caused by poorly behaved neurons. To investigate this further, Lim conducted another experiment on 326 people with tinnitus, each sitting with a plastic paddle on their tongue for up to an hour. The paddle had tiny electrodes that conducted electrical current to the brain to stimulate it. The electrical stimulation felt like pop rock gushing in your mouth.
The test subjects also wore headphones that sent sounds at different frequencies to the brain. The purpose of using both electrical stimulation and sound together was to distract the brain by increasing its sensitivity and forcing it to suppress the activity that caused tinnitus in the first place. Over a period of 12 weeks, the subjects who followed the prescribed regimen reported an average Decrease by 14 points to their tinnitus severity level from 1 to 100. After a one year follow-up with these people, they still reported lower tinnitus scores, average drops of 12.7 and 14.5.
Watch the video below to learn more about this study by Hubert Lim. To read the full research paper, “Bimodal Neuromodulation Using Combination of Sound and Tongue Stimulation to Reduce Tinnitus Symptoms in a Large Randomized Clinical Trial,” visit the Science Translational Medicine website.
Source: science magazine, University of Minnesota