Objectives: Research on tinnitus suppression by intracochlear electrical stimulation has gained interest over the past few decades and it has become easier to apply since the introduction of cochlear implants (CI). This study attempted to gain more insight into optimal stimulation characteristics for tinnitus suppression.
Design: Eleven subjects with unilateral CI and tinnitus were recruited from our CI clinic. Electrical stimulation, independent of acoustic sounds, was generated using their CI. The current prospective (single blinded) experimental study systematically assessed two stimulation parameters, namely current level and the anatomical stimulation site inside the cochlea and their short-term effect on tinnitus.
Results: Approximately one-third of the tested conditions were successful in which case tinnitus loudness was reduced by at least 30%. At least one successful condition was achieved for nine subjects (82%). Complete suppression was achieved in 6 out of 107 tested conditions (6%). The effect of subthreshold electrical stimulation on tinnitus suppression did not differ significantly from above threshold electrical stimulation. However, a positive relation between mean percentage tinnitus suppression and current level was observed. Pitch-matched electrical stimulation did not appear to suppress tinnitus better than other tested conditions.
Conclusions: The majority of the subjects were able to experience tinnitus reduction through intracochlear electrical stimulation independent of acoustic sounds. Tinnitus can be reduced with audible or even inaudible, subthreshold stimuli. Clear trends in optimal stimulation characteristics were not found. Optimal stimulus characteristics for tinnitus reduction therefore appear to be highly subject-specific.