Vibrating wristband and app helps tinnitus sufferers find relief
Neosensory Duo utilizes 'bimodal stimulation' to train brain to ignore internal sounds
Those who struggle with ringing in their ears may want to try a new program that uses sound and touch to help tinnitus sufferers habituate to tinnitus.
The goal of the program is to train the brain to think differently about sound, using a concept known as "associative bimodal stimulation." This essentially means activating two senses, in this case, sound and touch.
So far, the research is promising. In a small study published in the International Tinnitus Journal, researchers compared two groups: One who only listened to tones, while another group listened to tones with corresponding vibrations delivered via a wristband. The tones+wristband group experienced significantly more relief, especially among people with severe tinnitus.
Wearable wrist device + smartphone app for tinnitus
The Neosensory Duo tinnitus program consists of two components:
Users download the app to their smartphone and after pairing it with the wristband, listen to 10 minutes of tones every day for a period of two months.
How much does it cost?
The Neosensory Duo plan is $249/month for two months and includes the wristband along with unlimited access to the smartphone app. All Neosensory devices come with a 30-day money back guarantee. After the two-month rental period, users can return the device or purchase it for further use.
“People generally reach their maximum effect in eight weeks,” Dr. David Eagleman, co-founder of Neosensory, said. “As far as we know, there’s no reason to run it longer than that.”
Approved for use for veterans
In 2023, the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) approved Neosensory's products (the Duo, Clarify and Buzz/Sound Awareness) to be distributed by audiologists for veterans with hearing loss and tinnitus.
What is bimodal stimulation?
Bimodal stimulation is the process of using two modes of sensory stimulation simultaneously. In this case, the two senses are sound and touch. As users listen to sounds on the app, the wristband vibrates to confirm the presence of external sound.
The concept came from a 2015 University of Michigan animal study on bimodal stimulation for tinnitus using shocks to the tongue. The literature intrigued Eagleman, who wondered if the same concept would work on the wrist. After running their own studies, Neosensory launched the Duo tinnitus program, which works on the existing Buzz wristband platform. The results of their latest study will be published in Frontiers in Neuroscience late June 2021.
Another company, Neuromod, is developing a similar device, known as the Lenire, that uses stimulation to the tongue. Their latest clinical trial results were positive, showing users experienced long-lasting symptom relief. Lenire is not yet available to the public.
Training the brain to recognize internal vs. external sound
Other forms of tinnitus therapy employ the use of sound as a distraction to mask the condition and make it less noticeable, Eagleman said. Associative bimodal stimulation enables neuroplasticity, which is the brain’s ability to reorganize its neural pathways.
“There are various hypotheses for why this (bimodal stimulation) works well for tinnitus, but simply it’s teaching your brain the difference between internal and external sound,” he explained. “So when a sound is external, you’re both hearing it and you’re feeling it. But when it’s an internal sound, as in your tinnitus, your brain says 'Oh, wait a minute. I’m not feeling any confirmation on the wristband so that (sound) is something I can ignore'.”
What is tinnitus?
Tinnitus is described as the perception of sound in the absence of actual external noise. Those with the condition describe the sounds and symptoms they hear in a variety of ways, including ringing, buzzing, whistling, swooshing or clicking.
According to the American Tinnitus Association (ATA), nearly 50 million people have experienced some form of tinnitus, with as many as 20 million experiencing debilitating cases. Tinnitus can be either acute or chronic, and is one of the most common health conditions in the United States.
Some people learn to habituate to tinnitus using meditation or sound therapy. A host of smartphone apps for tinnitus are available, as well. If a person has Meniere's disease, which often causes ringing in one ear, cutting back on salt and other dietary changes can help, too.
Most modern hearing aids also come with a tinnitus masking setting to help people who have both hearing loss and tinnitus, which is very common.
Other tinnitus treatments include therapy, relaxation techniques, and in some cases, medication.
New devices are not a cure for tinnitus
“Sadly, there is no cure for tinnitus, but what we find is that for most users this drives down the aversiveness of their tinnitus,” Eagleman said about the Neosensory Duo tinnitus program. "All we’re doing is linking sound and touch. And that is what drives the effect.”
Tinnitus coach and Healthy Hearing columnnist Glenn Schweitzer says the science behind these biomodal concepts are promising. He sees them being most effective as part of a comprehensive treatment plan, especially for people who are severely struggling with tinnitus.
"Until there is a reliable cure for tinnitus, I've always had the intuition that the first tinnitus therapies that really made a difference were probably going to be the ones that leveraged the brain's ability to adapt to facilitate habituation," he said.