As many as 50 million Americans suffer from tinnitus, a debilitating health condition commonly known as "ringing in the ears." Musicians, factory workers, military veterans and many others endure its effects, including problems with concentration, sleep, anxiety and depression.
Many who experience chronic tinnitus turn to sound devices or machines that "mask" their ringing with white noise. But masking typically offers only short-term relief to those who struggle with the perception of buzzing, hissing, whistling or clicking.
New technology is now taking a radically different approach by retraining the brain to ignore these types of sounds, alleviating the condition altogether. The Levo System, technology approved by the Food and Drug Administration, mimics the specific sounds of a patient's individual tinnitus. The patient listens to the sounds through earbuds while sleeping. Because the brain is most responsive to sensory input during sleep, it grows accustomed to the sounds after a few months of treatment.
New research underscores the promise of this approach.
A recently released randomized study by the National Center for Rehabilitative Auditory Research at the VA Portland Health Care System demonstrated improved clinical outcomes for tinnitus patients using the Levo System. The study was led by James Henry, PhD.
Study participants were assigned to the brain retraining technique using the Levo System or a commonly-used white noise masking machine. Patients using the Levo System reported the greatest improvement in tinnitus symptoms and the biggest decline in cognitive-related problems. These participants also reported the most significant improvement in their enjoyment of social activities and relationships with family and friends, key quality of life indicators.
"It is gratifying to see so many people experience relief from a condition that has defied a long-term solution," said Michael Baker, president and CEO of Otoharmonics Corp., which produces the Levo System. "Patients report the greatest improvement when they drive decisions about their treatment."
Tinnitus affects a range of people, including those who are exposed to continuous noise. It is the leading service-related disability among U.S. veterans, according to the American Tinnitus Association.
The new Levo System approach is grounded in the idea of personalized medicine. Rather than machines or doctors selecting sound matches in the customary fashion, patients choose the actual sounds they hear when they sleep. When patients take an active role addressing their tinnitus, they often feel a sense of mastery and control.
The Levo System has been cleared by the FDA for marketing in the U.S. Cedars-Sinai in Los Angeles is Otoharmonics' majority stakeholder.