A new pilot study aiming to assess the use of HD-tDCS – a type of non-invasive brain stimulation – to reduce the white noise levels of tinnitus is underway at Flinders University in Adelaide, South Australia.
This study is led by Indian-origin researchers – Professor of Audiology Giriraj Singh Shekhawat and postdoctoral fellow Dr Deepti Domingo.
According to experts, many people will experience some sort of short-term tinnitus at least once in their lives.
It affects about 15% to 20% of people and is especially common in older adults.
This is usually after a loud music concert or following exposure to a sudden loud noise.
In rare cases, as per experts, tinnitus can also occur as a whooshing sound, often in time with a person’s heartbeat.
According to Eldre Beukes who is a Postdoctoral Fellow in Audiology at Anglia Ruskin University this could lead to depression and other issues.
‘People with tinnitus are found to be at higher risk of lower emotional wellbeing, depression and anxiety, possibly because of people’s frustration with their inability to escape or control the condition.
Tinnitus may also make it difficult to sleep and concentrate, which can affect daytime functioning.’
For one in six people in Australia tinnitus is constant and very limited research has been done to find solutions.
Professor Adrian Linacre OAM has been coping with constant buzzing in his ears for almost three years.
‘It began at home one evening when I started to hear a buzzing noise. After a while, it dawned on me that the sound was internal in my head.
I hoped it would disappear but with tinnitus the constant buzzing white noise continues every moment of every waking day.”
Professor Shekhawat has 15 years of audiology research experience at University College London and the University of Auckland.
In addition, he has valuable clinical experience in the US, Singapore, and India.
Professor Shekhawat observes:
“Our inner ear has thousands of hair cells that transfer sound energy into electrical impulses to our brain via the auditory nerve.
Any damage along this pathway will disrupt or dull the sound signal reaching the brain – which then tries to compensate by essentially listening harder.”
In an attempt to work hard to pick up sound, overfiring neurons within certain networks in the brain can result in error signals being interpreted as additional sound.
This happens even when no sound is present around a person and thus results in ‘ringing’ that tinnitus sufferers hear.
Dr Domingo who relocated from rural South Australia to pursue her love of science completed a PhD in 2020 from the University of Adelaide.
“Hearing impairments can make learning difficult and negatively impact the overall quality of life for people at all ages.”
She is hopeful that their pilot study has the potential to bring long-term relief to tinnitus sufferers around the world. She adds:
“Given tinnitus is caused by disrupted neural networks, through this trial we are aiming to use a safe, low amplitude direct current stimulation to the brain, to correct those networks.”
Funded by the Royal National Institute for the Deaf and Rosetrees Trust in the UK, the three-year pilot study includes research partners in the UK, Europe, and the US.
Further supported by neurological experts at SAHMRI, the study is being conducted at Flinders University’s Health2Go clinic and the University’s Tonsley campus.