Low-level laser applied through the ear canal of the affected ear has been investigated as a treatment for tinnitus. The theory behind the use of a laser for treating tinnitus is that laser can stimulate the inner ear and cause changes in the inner ear. This change can lead to repair of the inner ear or improvement in the tinnitus. These theories have not been proven scientifically.
In 2002 Nakashima and colleagues studied 45 patients (68 ears) with tinnitus treatment using laser irradiation. Half of the patients received the real laser, and half received a sham device. The laser was used once weekly for four weeks (six minute treatments) in patients with disabling one sided or two sided tinnitus. The authors concluded there was no significant difference in tinnitus between the real laser and the sham laser groups with regard to loudness, duration, quality and annoyance of tinnitus before and after laser use.
Tauber and his team in 2003 reported on the using transmeatal (through the ear canal) low-level laser tinnitus (ear ringing / buzzing) therapy (laser TCL-system) for the treatment of chronic cochlear tinnitus and sensorineural hearing loss in 35 patients. Patients were randomized to receive five single laser treatments at different frequencies (635 or 830 nm). After six months, the researchers reported 13 of the 35 irradiated patients had reduced tinnitus loudness. This 37% is not different from the 30-40% of patients showing improvement when receiving any sham treatment for tinnitus. The researchers concluded that additional large, double-blind (studies where neither the patient nor the doctor know who is getting which type of treatment), placebo (sham treatment)-controlled studies are needed to evaluate the effectiveness of the TCL system for treatment of acute and chronic cochlear tinnitus. No further study of this device has been done since then.
In a prospective, randomized double-blind study, Teggi et al (2009) examined the effectiveness of low level laser therapy for tinnitus. A total of 60 patients with tinnitus in one ear were included in the study. They were randomly divided into 2 groups: (i) active laser therapy 20 mins a day for 3 months with a 650-nm, 5-mW soft laser (group L), and (ii) control group with dummy device, which duplicated all aspects of active laser therapy except for the activation of the laser beam. One subject in both groups dropped out due to an increase in tinnitus loudness. Main outcome measure was the Tinnitus Handicap Inventory (THI). No statistical difference was detected between the 2 groups in the THI total score or its functional, emotional, and catastrophic subscales. Moreover, a visual analog scale for self-perceived loudness of the tinnitus showed no difference between the groups. Regarding other parameters, the minimum masking level showed no difference. No changes were detected in the hearing in the two groups. The authors concluded that soft laser therapy was not effective in the treatment of tinnitus.
There is still not enough evidence in the medical literature to support the use of a low-level laser used in the ear canal for the treatment of tinnitus. The same stimulation of the inner ear which the laser aims to achieve, can be performed with particular sounds that are customized to the patient. This has been studied by physicians at University of California Irvine and found to be effective in helping tinnitus patients. For this breakthrough research-based tinnitus therapy click here.
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