A personalised tinnitus treatment that involves listening to sounds through headphones may offer new hope for thousands of sufferers, a study has found.
The unusual therapy is designed to "reset" auditory nerve cells in the brain to stop them misfiring.
Known as Acoustic Co-ordinated Reset (CR) Neuromodulation, it reduced tinnitus symptoms in three quarters of trial patients.
The £4,500 treatment, introduced at the Tinnitus Clinic in London last year, is currently only available to private patients.
But the trial results could pave the way to it being offered freely on the NHS.
An estimated 10% of the UK population suffers from tinnitus, which causes ringing, buzzing, roaring and other noises in the ears.
Some 600,000 people experience the problem to a disabling degree. Tinnitus can lead to loss of sleep, depression and anxiety, and have a severe impact on domestic and working life.
The condition is incurable and most treatments rely on helping patients cope with and ignore the symptoms.
Acoustic CR Neuromodulation was developed from therapies for neurological diseases such as Parkinson's that involve stimulating neurons with probes sunk deep into the brain.
But unlike invasive Deep Brain Stimulation, all it requires is for patients to wear a set of special headphones for a few hours a day.
The headphones emit a series of tones tuned according to the characteristic frequency of the patient's tinnitus.
This is said to disrupt the rhythmic firing patterns of tinnitus-creating auditory nerve cells.
The study involved 63 patients who received genuine and "dummy" placebo treatments.
Patients were asked to rate the loudness and annoyance of their symptoms, and also underwent brainwave measurements.
Significant benefits to the treated patients were seen within 12 weeks, and persisted over 10 months. One symptom measure, called the Tinnitus Questionnaire, showed a response rate of 75%.
No such changes were seen in placebo patients. Tinnitus-related brainwave alterations were also reversed by the therapy.
Results from the trial, led by Professor Peter Tass at the Julich Research Centre in Germany, will be presented at a British Medical Association conference tomorrow.
They also appear in the journal Restorative Neurology and Neuroscience.
Acoustic CR Neuromodulation has been available in Germany since 2010, where it has been used to treat more than 2,000 patients.
Mark Williams, an audiologist at the Tinnitus Clinic, said: "This landmark academic paper ... is the first in-man trial for the CR concept, and its results are extremely encouraging. As the first treatment for tinnitus to remove rather than mask symptoms, clinical evidence of safety and efficacy will hopefully open up this treatment to a wider range of patients."
The clinic is funding a UK trial in a larger patient group at Nottingham University.
It is also submitting an appraisal application to the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (Nice).
Approval from Nice could result in the treatment being made available on the NHS.