19/03/2012 06:55 GMT | Updated 19/03/2012 06:59 GMT

Tinnitus Could Be 'Switched Off' By Headphone Device

Tinnitus could be cured using a headphone device that ‘switches off’ the sound of ringing, buzzing or hissing in the ear, claims recent research.

The condition is the perception of sound in the absence of any corresponding external sounds and affects around 10% of the population.

Trials of this new kind of treatment for tinnitus, called Acoustic Coordinated Reset (ACR) found that it significantly reduces the symptoms using the technology that creates the same tone as the sound sufferers ‘hear’ in their mind.

The £4,000 device, created by professor Peter Tass from the Jülich Research Centre, stops the auditory brain cells from creating the perceived noises and trains the brain to ‘unlearn” the neurological processes which cause the ‘phantom’ sounds.

The trial involved 63 tinnitus patients who tested the portable headphone device for 12 weeks. Participants used the ACR between one and six hours a day. Five of the volunteers were given ‘dummy’ sounds to listen to.

After the 12-week period, participants were given a four-week break before resuming the trial for another 22 weeks.

Three quarters of the participants experienced improved symptoms, with an average of a 50% reduction in all, compared to those who listened to the dummy noises.

The study claims that the ACR treatment mostly helps sufferers with chronic tonal tinnitus, mainly ringing in the ears.

A common treatment for tinnitus is environmental sound therapy, which uses everyday sounds like an electric fan, ticking clock, radio or a background sound generator. These help take the brain’s focus away from the tinnitus by reducing the contrast between the background sound and tinnitus.

Relaxation techniques are also promoted to help ease the symptoms as stress and anxiety makes tinnitus worse.

The study results were published in the Restorative Neurology and Neuroscience journal and will be presented at a conference by the British Medical Association.

“The results of this exploratory first trial are interesting and encouraging. The findings now need to be replicated by an independent research group,” says a spokesperson from the British Tinnitus Association in a statement.

“A randomised-controlled trial is required to assess whether this new intervention is a viable and effective treatment for tinnitus patients. We look forward to seeing the results of the planned larger scale Phase 2 Trial."

Tinnitus is generated within a person’s own auditory pathways and can appear in both ears, one ear or in the middle of the head.

There is usually nothing that causes the sounds - which include buzzing, whistling or loud continuous ringing - as it is a misinterpretation by the brain signals from the nerves in the ear. Scientists are yet to come up with a conclusive reason why tinnitus happens.