Thousands who experience the nightmare of constant 'ringing' in the ears may benefit from a new therapy that appears to change how the brain processes sounds.
Scientists took a sufferer's own choice of music - but adapted it by removing sounds that were on the same frequency as the tinnitus sounds.
They found that by regularly listening to the altered music, many sufferers gained long-term relief from their condition.
Dr Christo Pantev, of Munster University Hospital, Germany, who led the study, said: 'These findings indicate that tinnitus loudness can be significantly diminished by an enjoyable low-cost, custom- tailored music treatment.' Around one in seven Britons have suffered temporary bouts of tinnitus, in which they hear irritating ringing, buzzing or whistling noises. Long-term problems affect one in 100.
There is no cure, but sound therapy is often used to relieve the distress, with background music or nature sounds helping to make the tinnitus less intrusive.
Dr Pantev's study, which is published in the journal Proceedings Of The National Academy Of Sciences, works in a different way by getting the brain to reorganise the way it hears tinnitus noise.
Almost 40 sufferers were asked to listen regularly to their own choice of music.
For some, the music had been modified to exclude the frequency range of their individual tinnitus.
They reported significant reductions in tinnitus loudness after six months, which persisted for a year.
There were no such improvements for those whose music was not adapted.
Researchers also used a scan to measure the magnetic fields in the brain in areas activated when tinnitus is experienced.
They found the reactions were 'reorganised' in a way that suggested a permanent change in the way the tinnitus sounds were being processed.
Dr Pantev said the findings suggested that regular listening to the 'doctored' music had retrained the way the brain heard sounds in the tinnitus frequency.
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