A tiny Malden company has launched an easy, inexpensive treatment option for the nearly 45 million people in the U.S. who suffer from the auditory problem known as tinnitus. And the only equipment required is a smartphone with earphones.
Sensimetrics Corp. recently launched its first-ever app, called Whist, on the iTunes store, with a version for Android expected in coming weeks. In an interview, company President Pat Zurek said there are other apps designed to provide temporary relief to patients through the use of background noise — such as one made by the German company Tinnitracks — but he says they mostly consist of recordings of nature sounds or white noise.
Sensimetrics, which has helped develop technology centered around hearing for much of the 25 years it’s been in existence, developed Whist in order to allow the patient to adjust pitch, tone and other variables to match his or her particular symptoms.
The company has both a free version of the app and premium version available to download for $1.99.
Although it wasn’t Zurek’s plan, the launch of the app inadvertently coincided with a report last week in the medical journal Biology Today which documented the first-ever mapping of activity in the brain of a patient with tinnitus. That report has attracted worldwide attention, with articles in the New York Times and the BBC, in part because it found activity far beyond the core auditory areas of the brain during bouts of the condition.
Zurek joked that the company is “a little late in getting into the app game,” having been focused on contract work thanks to federal Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) grants for most of its history. The launch of an app is a stark change for the six-employee company in the face of declining funding from the National Institutes of Health, and is hoped to bring in additional revenue. The company also recently launched an app to help people who have color-blindness to better differentiate colors.
But the launch fits in with a trend in medical devices away from expensive, specialized equipment and toward apps and relatively cheap digital devices, like FitBit, to record health information and help people manage their own health.