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Coloured light could provide home treatment for tinnitus

Research into treating tinnitus with coloured light could lead to a personal medical device under a Design Council-supported scheme.

Scientists from Leicester University and UK company Orthoscopics will work with designers from the public body to explore ways in which research on the treatment could be commercialised for use in the home.

The researchers have conducted a study that found around 40 to 45 per cent of patients reported that their tinnitus was reduced by around 50 per cent when looking at an area of coloured light illuminated by Orthoscopics’ LED ‘Read Eye’ lamp.

Although the exact mechanism for how this happens is unknown, Leicester’s project leader Dr Mike Mulheran said that it may be due to the unusual light the lamp produces, which mixes red, green and blue colours with very specific or ‘tight’ frequencies.

‘We think it may be selective attention by the brain to this that results in less perceptual processing being given to tinnitus — which is another unusual and “unnatural” signal,’ he told The Engineer.

More research is needed to establish details, such as how long the effects last, but the team ultimately aims to adapt the treatment for home use and in varying environmental conditions.

‘This may be a modified Read Eye lamp, with memory and simple programming functions,’ said Mulheran.

‘The actual design of the lamp may take a number of configurations depending on the specific user environment.’

The treatment, which the Orthoscopics researchers came across while using the Read Eye lamp to prescribe tinted lenses for migraine sufferers, appears to involve the interaction of sensory signals in the brain.

This cross-sensory integration means that information from one sense can alter the brain’s perception of stimuli from other senses, although scientists have yet to define the exact circuitry involved.

Tinnitus — which affects up to 10 per cent of the UK population — is the perception of sound in the ear without the existence of an external sound, which makes it very difficult to objectively test and treat.

Existing treatments range from acoustic masking with other sounds and talking therapy, to drugs, implants, electro-stimulation and radiosurgery.

The Design Council is providing design support for the project, which is one of four from Leicester University to receive help from the organisation under the 2011 Innovate for Universities mentoring service. Another six universities are also taking part in the scheme.

Readers' comments (53)

  • Where can I get one! I would be happy to take part in these trials, anything that might get rid of this noise that I have endured for over 25 years now.

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  • Me too! I'll try anything that mutes that accursed ~9kHz screeching. This treatment looks interesting - and it doesn't involve drugs or sharp needles!

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  • I have suffered with tinnitus for 5 years and sometimes still find it extremely hard to live with.
    I would welcome anything to help with the constant ringing.

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  • As a Tinnitus sufferer I would like to use this forum to mention to other sufferers that ginkgo biloba has a marked effect (at least for me) in reducing the volume of the Tinnitus. Also moving my jaw back and forth has an effect - if I thrust my jaw forward the volume increases but if I hold it there for a minute then upon relaxing the volume is reduced for a while.
    Incidentally, the frequency of my tone appears to be around 8 kHz as judged against a signal generator.

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  • I have always had the high pitch hiss 24/7 for most of my 52 years and have grown accustom to it (still do no like it). I sometimes will get a secondary tone in the 600-1800Hz range. That drives me nuts. A few years, for a while thankfully, A few years ago, I had a period of 2-3 months with the tone like a pickup truck engine going in my head that so convinced me the first few days it occurred that I went looking outside and walked around the house (in the country) looking for a neighbors truck or a propeller plane flying overhead. Happily, that one is gone.
    I hope that this device can change some of this.

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  • It's not often made public, but studies have found that tinnitus is associated with taking high doses of Aspirin. My GP confirmed this when I asked him, but of course nobody told me that before it was too late. (I mention this in the hope that it may help somebody somewhere to avoid the problem).

    Like the others here, I'm up for any trials.

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  • My symptoms started after i came out of a 2 month coma in 2003 and is getting worse, i've tried EVERYTHING and would be more than willing to take part in ANY trials anywhere, this suffering MUST stop.

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  • Perhaps this could also treat visual snow? Visual snow suffers commonly suffering from tinnitus as well.

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  • This is the worst thing to happen to anybody including me I had shingles in my right ear 21 years ago which left me with very little earring but lots of winding noises none stop and over the last 2 years I have been having trouble with left ear hope there is a cure as it is effecting all our life’s I will take any tests or trials
    Kind regards Michael kavanagh

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  • I too suffer with tinnitus and would welcome any breakthrough to help with any form of reduction.

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