Your Ultimate Guide to the Latest Research for Tinnitus

Lately, a lot has been going on in the world of tinnitus research. Our knowledge and understanding regarding tinnitus are still has a long way to go. Keep on reading to learn more about tinnitus, and what researchers have found recently, and the most up-to-date treatment options for tinnitus.

Facts about Tinnitus

Tinnitus is described as the perception of sound without the presence of actual sound, either in one ear, both ears or in the head. It is also referred as a ringing in the ears. But it may also sound like buzzing, hissing, whistling, or any other sounds. 

As estimated by Center for Disease Control, almost 15% of Americans (almost 45 million) experience some form of tinnitus. About 20 million of them have chronic (ongoing) tinnitus, and 2 million of them have extreme or enfeebling cases. In the year 2011, tinnitus was one of the most prevalent service-connected disability for veterans, far overtaking PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder). 

Tinnitus can even be caused by earwax blockage. But it may be the result of various other health conditions like the noise-induced hearing loss, stress, head and neck disorders, ear infections, hormonal changes, circulation issues, or the starting or stopping of some medications. It can also be considered as the first warning sign of age-related hearing loss

There is no permanent cure for tinnitus, but its symptoms can be managed with the help of certain medications as well as some remedies. The most oft-repeated preventive measure is to avoid loud noise or at least protect your ear against them with earplugs, earmuffs or any other ear protection.

Latest Research for Tinnitus

In the last few years, researchers have started investing more time on studying about tinnitus. And therefore, we are heading in a positive direction for the sufferers. There are interventions that are known to work. Because of the increased knowledge, we are starting to understand why is it so. 

Mapping a new network

People from the University at Buffalo situated in New York, Southeast University situated in Nanjing, China, and Dalhousie University situated in Nova Scotia, Canada headed a global research effort. It strongly suggests the complexity of the network in the brain which is responsible for tinnitus symptoms.

The research shows that those parts of the brain which are responsible for emotion, attention, memory, and the activation of motions are all connected to this network. The most surprising outcome was the connection of the brain section related to motion activation to the phantom sounds. They were unable to figure out that why these sections are connected to each other. Studying this connection in detail will reveal further insights and help guide them to find out a permanent cure. 

Researchers are planning to conduct tests to isolate each part of this complex network and see how it really works. They hope to use the process of elimination, by shutting down any one section of the network at a time. They want to see if deactivating any one of them will relieve tinnitus or not. 

Getting into the Brain

Some of the researchers got the unique opportunity to literally “look inside” the brain of a 50-year-old tinnitus patient and study about the root cause of tinnitus. This person from Iowa experienced tinnitus for years, the reason likely being recreational gun use. But he also suffered from epilepsy, and that required him to undergo a brain surgery. The patient permitted researchers to implant electrodes into certain parts of his brain while the surgery was going on. So that his tinnitus could be studied further by the researchers and contribute towards the new technology and treatment. 

They “turned off” (or at least lowered the volume level) the tinnitus phantom sound, by playing a louder sound. They compared his brain activity while the tinnitus was active to that while the tinnitus was quieted. This helped to pinpoint the exact brain waves which were associated with tinnitus. This has never been done before. 

Any new ways to treat it?

Tinnitus having no permanent cure yet, still can be managed with the help of several management solutions. It helps to lessen tinnitus effect and make its symptoms more tolerable. These include hearing aids along with tinnitus therapy features, counseling, wearable sound generators fitted in the ear that emit soft sounds to mask the symptoms, external sound generators, and cochlear implants. But new treatment options have started to spring up. 

New technologies and treatments

A new smartphone app called Whist by Sensimetrics Corporation is designed to function like those wearable sound generators. There are several other apps which serve the same purpose. But there’s one important difference with Whist as well. The user of this app can manually adjust the pitch, tone, and other variables to match their individual symptoms. Since a different phantom sound is experienced by everyone with tinnitus. This app personalization will be as effective as possible for each and every user. 

Similarly, a relatively new technique for treating severe tinnitus is also available i.e. acoustic neural stimulation. The music played in the headphones for this treatment contains a broadband acoustic signal. This signal stimulates change in the brain’s neural circuits. 

Therefore, this app will densitized to their tinnitus.

Remolding the Brain

Neural Plasticity is described as the ability of brain activity to be remolded. Daniel Polley, who works as a neuroscientist at the Massachusetts Eye and Ear Infirmary is specialized in Neural Plasticity. According to him, the abnormal brain waves found can be fixed. This can be done by using sound to retrain the affected brain. 

He is currently testing on two approaches to doing just that. The first approach is a game. In this game, the participants will use an audio feedback to identify hidden objects on a given screen. The tones used in this game are close to the tinnitus symptoms frequency of the participant. These tones are “the villains” in the game and don’t let the participant win the game. The hope is that while the game is still on, participants’ brains will get trained to identify as well as discriminate between the pitch of their tinnitus symptoms and other pitches close to it.

The second approach will be music therapy. In this therapy, the music used is chosen by the participants themselves. But that music has the tone of their tinnitus symptoms filtered out. The goal of this approach is to get the participants to recognize and use the tones close to the frequency of their tinnitus symptoms. To “fill in the gaps”, learn to hear and use these tones. This will eventually overtake the tinnitus tone.

That’s the essence of neural plasticity as well as what’s new in the world of tinnitus news and research. 

Conclusion

Hearing loss and tinnitus, both are challenging in their own. But if together, they can push you to your limits. There are far too many people told, that they have to live with it for their whole life. 

But there is a better way forward for the millions of people who hear tinnitus and little else. 

And there is hope for today because we can habituate.

It may not be easy, but it’s possible, and with the right approach, relief is just around the corner.



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