Tinnitus, a condition that causes a persistent ringing, buzzing, or whistling sound in the ears, can have a major impact on a person’s quality of life. While clinicians currently rely on subjective feedback from patients to diagnose and treat tinnitus, researchers are working to develop an objective test that would provide a more accurate and reliable means of identifying the condition and monitoring treatment progress. In this article, we’ll take a closer look at the research behind this objective test for tinnitus using fNIRS technology and the potential benefits it could offer to those who suffer from this condition.
What is Tinnitus and How is it Diagnosed?
Tinnitus is a condition characterized by a persistent ringing, buzzing, or whistling sound in the ears, which can cause significant discomfort and distress. While the condition is fairly common, with an estimated 1 in 10 people experiencing tinnitus at some point in their lives, clinicians currently rely on subjective feedback from patients to diagnose and treat tinnitus. This often involves a comprehensive hearing test alongside a subjective questionnaire rating the severity of tinnitus. However, these tests cannot identify which specific part of the brain is involved in tinnitus or which treatments are likely to be most effective.
The Promise of Objective Tinnitus Testing
To address these limitations, researchers such as Dr. Mehrnaz Shoushtarian are working to develop an objective test for tinnitus using fNIRS technology. This non-invasive brain imaging technique involves detectors that detect the amount of light reflected through the head, and by measuring changes in oxygen levels in the brain, researchers can detect active brain parts. This technique can differentiate between people who have tinnitus and those who do not, as well as differences in the severity of tinnitus.
An objective test for tinnitus would provide a direct measure of what is happening in the brain, which could guide clinicians and patients to the treatments that are most likely to benefit them. This could include a range of treatments, such as sound therapy, cognitive-behavioral therapy, or medication. In addition to providing a more accurate and reliable diagnosis, an objective test for tinnitus could also be used to monitor treatment progress, helping clinicians and patients to assess the effectiveness of various treatments and make informed decisions about ongoing care.
Current Status of Tinnitus Testing Research
While the development of an objective test for tinnitus is still in progress, the researchers have already tested more than 120 patients and successfully identified differences between tinnitus-affected patients and healthy individuals. The team’s goal is to work with other individuals and organizations to develop treatments for tinnitus, and an objective readout can provide conclusive evidence on the effectiveness of treatments.
The researchers are also working to develop a lower-cost fNIRS device with features that are essential for clinics, which will make it easier to use. Individuals can support the team’s work by signing up for the newsletter on the Bionics Institute website, and those in Melbourne can take part in their research.
The development of an objective test for tinnitus using fNIRS technology holds tremendous promise for improving the diagnosis and treatment of this common and often debilitating condition. By providing a more accurate and reliable means of identifying the condition and monitoring treatment progress, an objective test can help clinicians and patients to make informed decisions about ongoing care. While the road to a commercially available test may still be long, the research being done by Dr. Mehrnaz Shoushtarian and others is an important step forward in providing relief for those who suffer from tinnitus.