Coloured lights to stop that ringing in your ear
ALAMP that gives out coloured light is being tested as a new treatment for tinnitus, a condition characterised by a ringing, buzzing or constant roar in the ears.
Researchers at the University of Leicester are testing this approach following a serendipitous discovery from earlier research with migraine patients who also happened to have tinnitus. Using coloured lenses to treat their migraines also reduced their tinnitus.
Further work found the coloured light reduced tinnitus symptoms in 40 per cent of the patients. Now the researchers are testing the treatment on a larger group.
An estimated six million people in the UK have tinnitus, with around 10 per cent of them seriously affected.
This can have a detrimental effect on their quality of life and has been linked to depression, anxiety and sleeping problems.
While the exact cause is not known, tinnitus is thought to stem from changes in the amount of sound moving from the ear to the brain — for instance, as a result of age-related hearing loss or injury.
It’s thought the tinnitus sounds are the result of the brain trying to get more hearing information from the ear.
There are a range of treatments, including sound ‘generators’, or pillows with built-in speakers, which use noise to distract the brain from sending signals that lead to tinnitus. These treatments have variable success.
The new approach is based on the theory that the light rays distract the sensory area of the brain, which then stops producing the signals that cause the tinnitus sounds in the ear.
The light is also thought to distract the brain from the noises.
The previous research involved getting patients who had migraines to look through coloured lenses to reduce symptoms.
In a subsequent pilot study conducted by researchers at Leicester with patients who had only tinnitus, 40 per cent reported that their symptoms halved when they looked at coloured light from a special lamp.
Instead of one bulb, the lamp has lots of tiny ones that emit red, blue or green light.
It has three dials to alter the intensity of each colour, and the mix of tinted light projects down onto an A4- sized plate, which patients look at. In the new trial at University Hospitals of Leicester NHS Trust, 32 patients will test the lamp. They will be asked to turn the colour dials to create different tints for ten minutes at a time to see which, if any, reduces the ringing in their ears.
The specific colour combination they say helps the most will be recorded on a computer connected to the lamp.
The patients will then be invited to return four times over six weeks where they will look at their selected colour of light or a placebo low level of light for 20 minutes each. Their symptoms will be compared before and after each session.
COMMENTING on the new therapy, Professor Jaydip Ray, a ear, nose and throat consultant at Sheffield Teaching Hospitals, says: ‘ This trial is based on the fact tinnitus can be modulated by sensory substitution such as distracting light, sound or tongue movements.
‘If effective, it can be one of the self-help strategies that may help tinnitus sufferers.’
MEANWHILE, researchers in Brazil believe acupuncture could help reduce tinnitus symptoms.
A new study by the State University of Londrina in Brazil gave 50 tinnitus patients acupuncture (inserting fine needles) in the head twice a week for ten weeks or no treatment. There was around 50 per cent reduction in the intensity of symptoms after acupuncture.
The suggestion is that the acupuncture needles prompt an electrical signal in the brain that blocks the tinnitus signals.