Electrical Stimulation of the Ear, Head, Cranial Nerve, or Cortex for the Treatment of Tinnitus: A Scoping Review

Neural Plast. 2016:2016:5130503. doi: 10.1155/2016/5130503. Epub 2016 Jun 15.


Tinnitus is defined as the perception of sound in the absence of an external source. It is often associated with hearing loss and is thought to result from abnormal neural activity at some point or points in the auditory pathway, which is incorrectly interpreted by the brain as an actual sound. Neurostimulation therapies therefore, which interfere on some level with that abnormal activity, are a logical approach to treatment. For tinnitus, where the pathological neuronal activity might be associated with auditory and other areas of the brain, interventions using electromagnetic, electrical, or acoustic stimuli separately, or paired electrical and acoustic stimuli, have been proposed as treatments. Neurostimulation therapies should modulate neural activity to deliver a permanent reduction in tinnitus percept by driving the neuroplastic changes necessary to interrupt abnormal levels of oscillatory cortical activity and restore typical levels of activity. This change in activity should alter or interrupt the tinnitus percept (reduction or extinction) making it less bothersome. Here we review developments in therapies involving electrical stimulation of the ear, head, cranial nerve, or cortex in the treatment of tinnitus which demonstrably, or are hypothesised to, interrupt pathological neuronal activity in the cortex associated with tinnitus.

Publication types

  • Review
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Acoustic Stimulation / methods
  • Auditory Cortex / physiopathology*
  • Auditory Pathways / physiology*
  • Cranial Nerves / physiopathology*
  • Ear / physiology
  • Electric Stimulation Therapy / methods*
  • Head / physiology
  • Humans
  • Randomized Controlled Trials as Topic / methods
  • Tinnitus / physiopathology*
  • Tinnitus / therapy*
  • Treatment Outcome
  • Vagus Nerve Stimulation / methods