A new smartphone application effective in the treatment of tinnitus
Tinnitus is an irritating condition that can cause or exacerbate problems with sleep, concentration, anxiety and depression, and hearing problems. The exact pathophysiology of tinnitus is still unknown, but it is assumed that it may result from disturbed activity within and between several neural networks. There are various factors that contribute to the severity of tinnitus, including: external sounds, as well as the processes of attention, memory and emotions. There is no cure for this ailment, but research shows that many people can be helped by appropriate smartphone applications.
In a recently published study, researchers compared the performance of a prototype of their new app and the White Noise Lite app, which can be downloaded from Google Play or the Apple Store. The White Noise application allows you to listen to selected white noise, in the form of sounds such as rain, sea waves or wind, and has already proven effective in relieving tinnitus in previous studies.
The new app, called UpSilent, has three functions: Passive Listening, Active Listening and Counseling. Passive Listening is a set of sounds selected by the research participant, which could have one of three purposes:
- Relief – sounds masking tinnitus,
- Relax – relaxing recordings, such as the gentle sounds of a waterfall,
- Retraining sounds – more complex nature sounds that the participant was tasked with focusing on in order to divert attention from the tinnitus.
In Active Listening mode, participants had to listen to the location of a sound imitating their tinnitus and indicate on the slider how far to the right or left they heard it. They also underwent attention training, which consisted of listening to different sounds and indicating whether it was broadcast to the right, left or both ears.
The Counseling function provided basic psychoeducation. App users could gain knowledge about tinnitus and how to use the app to benefit from various therapeutic strategies such as goal setting, sleep hygiene, attention control techniques, deep breathing exercises.
Participants in both groups (the White Noise group and the UpSilent group) were expected to use the app at least 2 hours a day for 12 weeks.
It was found that both apps helped some people, but UpSilent was effective for more study participants and improved more metrics.
After 6 weeks, improvement was noticed in 55% of people using the UpSilent app and in 33% of those using White Noise. After 12 weeks, improvement was seen in 65% of UpSilent users, compared to 43% of White Noise users.
In the case of the White Noise application, only the improvement in perceived unpleasantness related to tinnitus after 12 weeks of therapy was statistically significant. The UpSilent app also improved the annoyance index and the ability to ignore tinnitus, and the difference was statistically significant after just 6 weeks. After 12 weeks, the tinnitus intensity (loudness) index also decreased.
The authors of the study admit that it is necessary to repeat the study on a larger number of participants, but these results already show that appropriate smartphone applications can help some people with the bothersome ailment of tinnitus.
Searchfield G. D., Sanders P. J. (2022). A randomized single-blind controlled trial of a prototype digital polytherapeutic for tinnitus, Frontiers in Neurology.
Author: Maja Kochanowska