SAN FRANCISCO (KGO) --A Bay Area company is introducing a new technology that could help thousands of patients finally silence an irritating and debilitating condition.
If you've ever had that annoying ringing in your ears, imagine what life is like for people who can't make it stop -- sufferers of a condition known as tinnitus.
Jeff Carroll, Ph.D., is the clinical director of a Silicon Valley company called SoundCure. He's made it his mission to turn down the volume down inside the brains of tinnitus suffers, using a unique type of sound wave, known as S-tones.
"The hardest part, wasn't actually producing the sounds from a device themselves, but in fact finding the right type of sound that would interfere with tinnitus in a specific way," Carroll said.
First it helps to understand that tinnitus is typically a neurological condition caused by the brain's misinterpreting neural signals as sound. Common therapies involve distracting the brain with the use of counter-sounds, such as white noise, also known as broadband noise.
But Carroll says S-tones work more like a scalpel, in comparison. First audio technicians test each individual patient to identify exact type of sound being produced by the tinnitus.
Sophisticated software then helps generate a precise S-tone designed to distract the brain from that specific tone. The S-tone is then delivered though a portable device known as "the serenade".
A recent study led by researchers at the University Iowa, found a majority patients were able to find relief using S-tones producing about half the volume of their normal tinnitus.
"To the patient, what that really means is sounds can be effective in interfering with the tinnitus at much softer volume than traditional masker," Carroll said.
SoundCure was founded by CEO Bill Perry, who's suffered the debilitating effects of tinnitus himself. He said, "Patients who describe being debilitated by, who describe not being able to sleep, being depressed, not being able to work. The results can be quite dramatic."
It is relief produced by tones that some patients might gratefully describe as the sounds of silence.
Written and produced by Tim Didion