Monday, 20 October 2014
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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 (52)

  • I have suffered from this irritating mosquito in my ear for last 10years . Heavy industry victim before mandatory PPE protection was the norm . would volunteer anytime

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  • I would be very interested in trails for this. I have a constant ringing and I had it for a long time. It will be nice to have some silence for a change.

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  • Can you imagine such a trial filled with a mass of engineers:)

    My affliction reaches epic proportions when I am tired. Had it for years and seems to be getting worse. Would be first in line for the trial if I could.

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  • Although there may be a "physiological" cause to tinnitus, have you ever wondered how it is that tilting your head has little effect on the image perceived by the eyes? Most will realise that what is projected on the retina will have changed radically, and that the eyeball has not had a chance to re-scan the scene in the time available. Yet somehow we manage. This is because we learn to see (and hear) in very early development and part of this is the way our internal subsystems proactively fill in data opportunistically ie in the hope that it may be useful, whilst scanning etc catches up and checks. It is harder to illustrate this idea for hearing, of course, but it may well be that tinnitus is a consequence of the brain filling in opportunistically some of the silences - perhaps even due to reduced hearing in the first place. The interesting question then is whether the tinnitus response cannot be unlearned in some way. There have been cases of tinnitus "cured" or possibly otherwise overcome by hypnotherapy and I would not be surprised if there were something similar going on in the example quoted. I am a tinnitus sufferer and currently doing a hypnotherapy course and will try this on myself in due course... Btw my background is in physics & electronics/IT, not holistic medicine! :)

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  • I have suffered with Tinnitus for the past 50 years due to nerve damage in my ears. I must admit I am used to it and most of the time I don't notice it, it's only when I'm tired that it becomes more of a problem. If this light works, it would be nice to not have the ringing in my ears, it might even improve my poor hearing. It would be nice to be included in the trials.

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  • I've had this longer than i care to think, put me on that growing list, for any treatment that will or could help.

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  • I am a sufferer, I would like to take part and get rid of this annoying noise. Remove it from my head and be free of it.

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  • It can't come soon enough,the constant Buzz in the ear is like everyone says annoying to say the least.

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  • I have recently been diagnosed with this, no sleep and the deafness it brings are really hard to live with.
    I would take part in any trials to help get my life back.

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  • I've had it in both ears since suffering a brain haemorhage 9 years ago. I estimate it at around 80 - 85db in my left ear and slightly less in the right and it crucifies me. I've been told that there's no known cure and that I have to habituate to it, whatever that means. I feel for the poor chap who killed himself but can well understand why he did so. As for seeking help from the NHS - it's just not worth bothering!

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