A new “life-changing” mobile phone therapy to stop tinnitus has been developed by researchers who spent 20 years searching for a cure.

There is no pill that can cure the phantom ringing inside the ear, and the disorder has so far defied treatments.

Around five percent of the population experience tinnitus to such a distressing degree that they have trouble sleeping, difficulty carrying out daily tasks, and depression.

However a team from the University of Auckland in New Zealand have developed a new treatment that has 65 percent of participants reporting an improvement, and for some people it has been ‘life-changing’ – because tinnitus was “taking over their lives and attention.”

“This is likely to have a direct impact on future treatment of tinnitus,” said Audiology Professor Grant Searchfield.

Earlier trials have found that white noise, goal-based counselling, goal-oriented games, and other technology-based therapies are effective for some people, some of the time.

This new treatment begins with an initial assessment by an audiologist who combines a range of digital tools, based on the individual’s experience of tinnitus.

“This is quicker and more effective (taking 12 weeks rather than 12 months) and more individuals are able to gain some control.”

31 of the 61 study participants had ‘clinically significant’ improvements using the new polytherapeutic after just 12 weeks.

The remaining 30, who used a popular self-help app producing white noise, didn’t have these improvements.

“What this therapy does is essentially rewire the brain in a way that de-emphasises the sound of the tinnitus to a background noise that has no meaning or relevance to the listener.”

Dr. Searchfield and audiology research fellow Dr. Phil Sanders said they found the results of the polytherapeutic prototype personally rewarding and exciting.

Searchfield says he was inspired by his patients’ distress and no options for affective treatment. “I wanted to make a difference.”

Now the research team plan to refine the prototype and follow up with larger local and international trials in a mission to get FDA approval. The researchers hope the app will be clinically available in around six months.

The findings have been published in the journal Frontiers in Neurology.