Researchers using functional MRI (fMRI) have found that neurofeedback training has the potential to reduce the severity of tinnitus or even eliminate it, according to a study presented today at the annual meeting of the Radiological Society of North America (RSNA).
Tinnitus is the perception of noise, often ringing, in the ear. The condition is very common, affecting approximately one in five people. As sufferers start to focus on it more, they become more frustrated and anxious, which in turn makes the noise seem worse. The primary auditory cortex, the part of the brain where auditory input is processed, has been implicated in tinnitus-related distress.
For the study, researchers looked at a novel potential way to treat tinnitus by having people use neurofeedback training to turn their focus away from the sounds in their ears. Neurofeedback is a way of training the brain by allowing an individual to view some type of external indicator of brain activity and attempt to exert control over it.
The researchers gave the participants techniques to help them do this, such as trying to divert attention from sound to other sensations like touch and sight.
“Many focused on breathing because it gave them a feeling of control,” Dr. Sherwood said. “By diverting their attention away from sound, the participants’ auditory cortex activity went down, and the signal we were measuring also went down.”