In the months of March and April 2021, we asked new users of the Oto app to complete a number of surveys detailing how their tinnitus affects them.
The aim of the survey was to understand whether using the Oto app made a difference to users' perception of tinnitus and if so, how exactly it benefitted them.
Of the 21 app users we followed:
- 86% of users had some improvement in overall tinnitus severity
- Tinnitus severity dropped by 7.68 points on the Tinnitus Functional Index (TFI) scores
- 80% of users faced less emotional distress because of their tinnitus
- Over half (57%) of the users were able to sleep better after a month of using the app
- Just under two-thirds of people felt they had more control over their tinnitus
We will repeat the survey again in two months to better understand the longer term benefits of using the app.
How Did We Measure Improvement?
The Oto app is built to help manage tinnitus in the most effective way possible. This survey is the start of a series of research studies which will show exactly how effective the app and its therapy is to users.
To measure the difference that the app makes to those with tinnitus, we asked 21 app users with tinnitus to fill out a Tinnitus Functional Index (TFI) questionnaire.
The TFI is a tool that helps clinicians, such as Audiologists and ENT surgeons, as well as researchers, identify how much someone’s life is affected by tinnitus. We asked the group of users to fill out this questionnaire before and after using the app for one month.
The questionnaire looks at:
- tinnitus intrusiveness
- one’s sense of control
- cognitive interference
- sleep disturbance
- auditory difficulties
- interference with relaxation
- quality of life
- emotional distress
After signing up and filling out the initial questionnaire, the participants were then free to use the app’s features at their own pace.
This includes access to modules that focus on:
One month later, users completed the same questionnaire again and we analysed how their tinnitus had changed in that time.
86% of users had an improved relationship with their tinnitus.
In numbers, the users' TFI overall scores dropped by 7.68 marks on average. This is a 12.3% reduction of users' tinnitus severity.
Experts say that the benchmark for any meaningful tinnitus therapy should be an overall TFI score reduction of 13.
After just one month of using the Oto app, users saw improvements of more than half that value.
Where Did Users See Improvement?
The following graph shows a breakdown of the difference in users' TFI scores before using the app and after once month of using it.
TFI subscale scores are measured on a scale of 0 to 100 where 0 is comparable to no impact and 100 is most impact.
We know that tinnitus can affect numerous aspects of life and is often associated with other difficulties.
We used parts of the TFI questionnaire to look in more depth at how tinnitus had improved various aspects of life for our users.
The Personal Impact
When we look at data, it's easy to forget the individuals behind the numbers.
Arthur is a musician who had a sudden onset of tinnitus after a practice jam session. He found Oto helped him enormously.
He described to us the difficulty he had visiting his parents as it was too quiet for him to be able to cope with the tinnitus sound.
However, after a few months of using the Oto app regularly, he can now visit his parents happily and his tinnitus no longer bothers him.
"I forget I have it now most of the time".
He told us how he couldn't believe that the simple exercises of CBT and mindfulness techniques could make such a difference to his tinnitus.
"Sometimes I think its too good to be true".
The difference the app has made to him has given him the ability to overcome both the intrusion of his tinnitus as well as other anxiety and stresses in life. He describes the tools provided in the app as a 'superpower'.
The change in Arthur's experience speaks for itself.
Our hope is that more and more people with tinnitus will hear about Oto and find relief from tinnitus as well as the other benefits it has now been shown to provide.
Comparison with other apps
There are hundreds of smartphone apps avaialable to download which claim to help with tinnitus, but virtually none of them have published research that shows how effective they are.
We’re one of the first to quantify how our app actually helps people.
Currently, those in UK with tinnitus are first referred to the appropriate service to be assessed and receive treatment.
Even before the Covid-19 pandemic this took more than 18 weeks for up to 5% of people going through this process. That equates to 1,800 new diagnosed people with tinnitus in the UK per year who have to wait to be assessed. The situation is now often much worse.
Cognitive behavioural therapy is one of the key approved methods of treatment. A recent study that looked at NHS treatment of tinnitus with CBT showed that on average, there was a reduction in tinnitus severity by 25.5%.
Our app users are able to reach just under half of that decrease (12.3%) in only one month.
Whilst we are pleased with the results so far, this survey continues and we will question this same group of users in 2 months in order to better understand the impact of the app over a longer period of time.
In the future, we are planning to set up and run larger and more scientifically robust studies to fully analyse the improvements that the app brings to those who use it.
This more robust research will involve comparing how Oto benefits a greater range people when compared to those who are not receiving treatment or receiving other treatments.
Mobile apps are becoming increasingly useful in managing health, particularly after the Covid-19 pandemic has affected healthcare provision across the globe.
We can make sure that those people that need treatment for tinnitus are able to access it at the touch of a screen.