A research team, led by the University of Auckland, New Zealand, has developed a chatbot therapy app that, in a published trial, reduced the impact of tinnitus in two-thirds of users in just weeks.

Older adults are more likely to experience tinnitus because of age-related hearing loss and it can cause immense distress, about 20% of those affected are distressed by the noise, causing anxiety, depression and attention problems.

Tinnitus, or persistent ringing in the ears, does not have a single cause, but it is often related to hearing loss; a recent study suggests the condition may stem from hard-to-detect nerve damage. Tinnitus can sometimes go away on its own over time, but in other cases, it worsens, with chronic cases lasting three months or longer.

Various treatments can help people manage the condition, including cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT), a specialised form of talk therapy that focuses on identifying and changing distorted thought patterns and their associated behaviors.

In the new study, published on 9 January in the journal Frontiers in Audiology and Otology, researchers, including from Wholistic Brain and Mind, in Bangalow, in the NSW Northern Rivers, tested whether 28 people with tinnitus would respond to a form of CBT delivered via an app called MindEar.

In some cases, the chatbot therapy was also paired with virtual sessions with a trained psychologist. With or without the psychologist, the participants saw noticeable improvement after using the app.

CBT does not change the sound of ringing that people with tinnitus experience, but it can help them adjust to and learn to live with the noise.

Both treatment groups had a notable reduction in distress related to tinnitus, according to the survey they used, known as the tinnitus functional index.

Immediately after treatment, the chatbot-only group had a 46% reduction in this measure, while the hybrid group had a 64% reduction. At the two-month follow-up, both groups saw a 64% reduction.

Great news for anyone impacted by this serious condition.