Scientists say they've come up with a noninvasive device that can help alleviate the symptoms of tinnitus, a perception of noise or ringing in the ears. In the study in the Science Translational Medicine journal cited by Scientific American, the researchers say the bimodal neuromodulation contraption achieves this by rewiring the brain circuits that cause that noise perception. Per New Scientist, the device involves headphones that pipe white noise and a sequence of tones into the user's ears, while a small paddle delivers electrical stimulation to the tongue; study co-author Hubert Lim tells Science the "shock" feels like Pop Rocks candy dissolving in your mouth. In many tinnitus cases the brain hears sounds that aren't there. The idea, says Lim, is that "the brain can only pay attention to so many things"; by using sound and shock together he hoped to "suppress the activity that causes tinnitus," as Science puts it.
And it appeared to work: More than 80% of the study's 326 adult subjects completed the regimen of using the device for an hour each day for 12 weeks, with 81% of those participants reporting improved sleep and concentration, less anxiety, and better quality of life. These improvements remained a year later for more than three-quarters of the subjects. A University of Iowa audiologist not involved with the study calls it a "very thorough" one, but he also warns there was no control group (all subjects used the device, with varying sounds and timing), and that the participants didn't report on whether the tinnitus itself was actually reduced. It should also be noted the study was funded by Neuromod Devices, which is developing and selling the bimodal neuromodulation device, and where Lim holds the role of chief scientific officer. Some scientists are saying the study results should be replicated by a group not tied to Neuromod before the devices go into any kind of mass production. (Read more discoveries stories.)