For people suffering from tinnitus, the irritating sensation or ringing in the ears can be debilitating. Even if you've never had it, we're betting you can probably relate. Anyone that's ever had a tiny bit of water stuck in their ear after a shower or swimming will know that even the mildest change to your hearing can be a total ball ache.
Just like with a blocked nose when you're suffering from a cold, it's all you can think about, right?
But now there could be a new treatment for the millions of people suffering from the chronic condition, thanks to research recently published in the journal Science Translational Medicine.
Hope has come from an experimental device that uses timed blasts of sound and electrical pulses to 'reset' the nerve activity in the brain - which is thought to be the likely culprit.
"The brain, and specifically the region of the brainstem called the dorsal cochlear nucleus, is the root of tinnitus," Susan Shore, a professor at the University of Michigan Medical School and leader of the research team, said in a statement.
"When the main neurons in this region, called fusiform cells, become hyperactive and synchronize with one another, the phantom signal is transmitted to other centers where perception occurs.
"If we can stop these signals, we can stop tinnitus. That is what our approach attempts to do, and we're encouraged by these initial parallel results in animals and humans."
The device uses 'electrical-acoustical stimulus timing', with an alternating burst of two stimuli during a daily half-hour session.
Firstly, sound is played into the ears using a specialised earphone, before the audio stimulus is precisely alternated with electrical zaps, which are delivered through electrodes on the cheek or neck. This process tickles the fusiform cells, changing the rate at which they fire and in turn 'resetting' the nerve cells.
"We're definitely encouraged by these results, but we need to optimize the length of treatments, identify which subgroups of patients may benefit most, and determine if this approach works in patients who have nonsomatic forms of the condition that can't be modulated by head and neck manoeuvres," Shore added.
Tinnitus can develop gradually over time or occur suddenly, according to the NHS, with causes including an earwax build-up, a middle ear infection, age-related hearing loss or inner ear damage from repeated exposure to loud noises.
While the NHS advises there's no quick cure or guaranteed treatment for tinnitus, there are a few things you can do to help ease the symptoms, such as sound therapy, relaxation techniques and even cognitive behavioural therapy to help you change the way you think about tinnitus so it becomes less noticeable.
Featured Image Credit: PA