A recent Scientific American article covers tinnitus treatment research that isn’t new. The treatment described is neuromodulation or bimodal neuromodulation described in the Body Therapy chapter of Tinnitus Toolbox Hyperacusis Handbook. This is a noninvasive paired stimulation approach using electric impulses to the face. The research is still weak with no control groups, no tinnitus perceptual results, and no brain imaging. The researchers seem to be moving towards development, manufacturing, and sales.
Does neuromodulation work better than a placebo or sugar pill? Still don’t know.
Researchers didn’t use a control group for no treatment or placebo treatment. They had three subject groups try neuromodulation at three different settings. Results were based on subjective reactions on how their tinnitus sounded, e.g. changes in reported loudness.
Strong science includes a control group that gets a placebo treatment. They get set up and think they’re getting treatment but no treatment happens. With the placebo effect, people report a big improvement when they didn’t actually get any treatment. In strong evidence-based studies, researchers and subjects don’t know who got a real treatment and who got the placebo so results aren’t biased.
These scientists didn’t report perceptual changes like tinnitus loudness matching or pitch matching pre and post treatment. This is stronger evidence than reported reactions.
The researchers still haven’t done brain imaging to objectively confirm any brain changes pre and post treatment. This would be the strongest tinnitus treatment evidence. Brain imaging can objectively prove if any brain changes happen from treatment.
If reported improved reactions were supported by perceptual testing and brain imaging, this would be better news. We still don’t objectively know how helpful neuromodulation will be in a clinic setting.