Treating tinnitus with transcranial magnetic stimulation

Transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) is an experimental treatment in its infancy but poses a lot of potential when you look at the results of early stage trials. If you’re following this series on treating tinnitus, you will see that I continually stress that what works for one person or one tinnitus doesn’t meant that it automatically translates that it will work for another.

What is Transcranial magnetic stimulation?

This is a form of electromagnetic therapy which really has initially only been used to treat depression but has been tested and proven to help tinnitus sufferers in early stage trials. Because tinnitus shows an increase in activity in the neural cortex, researchers say that magnetic stimulation can target this. Its attractiveness is increased by the fact that it’s non-invasive. A coil is placed near the patient’s head and electromagnetic pulses are passed into the underlying brain tissue.×256.png

The science & research

In the most detailed and biggest clinical trial carried out in the US, it was found that over half of sufferers who were treated with the non-placebo TMS actually recorded an improvement in their tinnitus.

This research was headed up by Robert L. Folmer, PhD, research investigator with the National Center for Rehabilitative Auditory Research at the VA Portland Health Care System, and associate professor of Otolaryngology – Head and Neck Surgery in the OHSU School of Medicine.

Here’re a synopsis of his findings;

For the research, Folmer and colleagues reportedly used a TMS system that generates a cone-shaped magnetic field that penetrates the participant’s scalp and skull to interact with brain tissue. The higher the stimulation intensity, the deeper the magnetic field can penetrate and affect neural activity. Currently, the Food and Drug Administration has approved transcranial magnetic stimulation only for treatment of depression.

All 64 participants enrolled in the tinnitus study received one pulse of TMS per second to their skull just above the ear to target the auditory cortex in the brain. The researchers had participants undergo TMS sessions on 10 consecutive workdays, during which they received 2,000 pulses of TMS. Of the 32 participants who received the “active” TMS treatment, 18 people found their tinnitus symptoms were alleviated for at least six months. To participate in the study, patients were required to have had tinnitus for at least a year or more. A significant number of participants who had tinnitus for more than 20 years reported receiving some relief from TMS treatment. Courtesy

TMS tinnitus


Another unrelated study gives the following conclusion;

The principal finding of this study is that real 1 Hz rTMS treatment was capable of significantly reducing the total baseline score of basic scales that measure tinnitus severity. This result is important as it proves that significant reduction of symptoms can be achieved even in a group of patients with long-term symptoms resistant to pharmacological treatment.

You can read about the full test here

The future

As it’s still in early stages, TMS hasn’t yet delivered on the long term potential or on consequences, if any, on this treatment type. We can only go on the results that Dr Folmer et al can generate as they continue their trials and hopefully into a full blown solution.

I had a look for example, even for depression, i can’t find any evidence of the treatment being carried out in ireland with some hospitals offering it in the UK.

I’ll continue to dig into it and deliver an update as I come across one. The results so far are positive and I am hopeful that it could amount to a mainstream solution into the near future after all the years of research and alpha testing.

Thanks for reading, comments welcome.


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