The Effects of Compensatory Auditory Stimulation and High-Definition Transcranial Direct Current Stimulation (HD-tDCS) on Tinnitus Perception - A Randomized Pilot Study

PLoS One. 2016 Nov 10;11(11):e0166208. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0166208. eCollection 2016.


Background: Tinnitus correlates with elevated hearing thresholds and reduced cochlear compression. We hypothesized that reduced peripheral input leads to elevated neuronal gain resulting in the perception of a phantom sound.

Objective: The purpose of this pilot study was to test whether compensating for this peripheral deficit could reduce the tinnitus percept acutely using customized auditory stimulation. To further enhance the effects of auditory stimulation, this intervention was paired with high-definition transcranial direct current stimulation (HD-tDCS).

Methods: A randomized sham-controlled, single blind study was conducted in a clinical setting on adult participants with chronic tinnitus (n = 14). Compensatory auditory stimulation (CAS) and HD-tDCS were administered either individually or in combination in order to access the effects of both interventions on tinnitus perception. CAS consisted of sound exposure typical to daily living (20-minute sound-track of a TV show), which was adapted with compressive gain to compensate for deficits in each subject's individual audiograms. Minimum masking levels and the visual analog scale were used to assess the strength of the tinnitus percept immediately before and after the treatment intervention.

Results: CAS reduced minimum masking levels, and visual analog scale trended towards improvement. Effects of HD-tDCS could not be resolved with the current sample size.

Conclusions: The results of this pilot study suggest that providing tailored auditory stimulation with frequency-specific gain and compression may alleviate tinnitus in a clinical population. Further experimentation with longer interventions is warranted in order to optimize effect sizes.

Publication types

  • Randomized Controlled Trial

MeSH terms

  • Acoustic Stimulation / methods*
  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Analysis of Variance
  • Auditory Perception / physiology*
  • Chronic Disease
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Outcome Assessment, Health Care / methods
  • Outcome Assessment, Health Care / statistics & numerical data
  • Pilot Projects
  • Single-Blind Method
  • Tinnitus / physiopathology
  • Tinnitus / therapy*
  • Transcranial Direct Current Stimulation / methods*
  • Visual Analog Scale

Grant support

The author(s) received no specific funding for this work.