There are many devices that have been offered as treatments for tinnitus. One of the most recent is the Neuromonics device. It is presently being sold in the US, through select audiologists, for about $5000. Unfortunately, you can't use the device to play anything other than preprogrammed cartridges, that we are told, sound somewhat like "new age" music.
The principle of the device is to present a masking noise, spectrally adjusted to match an audiogram. On top of this is added music intended to relax the listener. In our conversations with patients who use this device, they generally think (after 6 months of listening and counseling visits to the dispensing audiologist) that it is modestly helpful.
The literature about the Neuromonics device is very positive but the opportunities for bias in the studies has been very high.
Davis and Paki (2007), recently published an article in Ear Hearing, indicating that it is the 3rd clinical trial for this device. This study, which appears to be done by the inventors or perhaps the manufacturers of the device, is small (n=35), unblinded and uncontrolled. The claims for the device are very positive, and the opportunities for bias are substantial.
Davis, Wilde, Steed and Hanley (2008) published a second article in the ENT journal. As disclosed in the fine print associated with this study, this was an industry funded study. Both Dr. Davis and Hanley are employees of the company that sells this device (Neuromonics), and Dr. Wilde and Steed are employees of the patent holder for the device (Curtin University). This was an unblinded study -- there was no placebo group. The outcome measures were questionnaires. According to the study description, the questionnaires were completed "unassisted so that they would not be subjected to any rater bias". Of a total of 88 patients recruited, 39 were excluded due to various reasons. Thus this was not an "intent to treat" design and in fact, almost half of the individuals recruited were not included in the results The result reported were very positive -- a strong treatment effect was seen that improved over 12 months. To summarize, this trial reported very positive results for this device, but the possibility of bias was very large. We hope that rigorous studies, not funded by the manufacturer, randomized, with intent to treat methodology, and with at least single-blinding will follow.
Bottom line for the Neuromonics device
The general idea that listening to something that gives you pleasure and sounds somewhat like your tinnitus may "desensitize" you to your tinnitus, seems reasonable.
In general, whether you are considering buying a "Neuromonics" device, a magnetic or electrical device or ultrasound generators, we advise caution. There is a very long history of placebos for subjective complaints such as dizziness and tinnitus. See the tinnitus placebo page for more.
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