Your Ultimate Guide to the Latest Research for Tinnitus

Tinnitus is the sensation or perception of noise like ringing, buzzing in the ears in the absence of external sound. Some of the main causes are:

  • Exposure to loud noise: Excessive and extended exposure to loud noise can damage the tiny sensory hair cells in your ear that transmit sound to your brain.
  • Gender: Tinnitus also depends on gender. Men are more likely to suffer from tinnitus compared to women.
  • Smoking: Smokers have a higher risk of developing tinnitus.
  • Cardiovascular problems: Conditions that affect your blood flow, such as high blood pressure or narrowed arteries, can increase your risk of tinnitus.
  • Age: As the age increases, hearing loss problems arises because of decline in the number of functioning nerve fibres in ears.

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 news, and what researchers have found recently by year 2018, and the most up-to-date treatment options for tinnitus.

Facts about Tinnitus

Tinnitus is the perception of sound without the presence of actual sound, either in one ear, both ears or in the head. It is also termed as a ringing in the ears. A person with the tinnitus hears the sound like buzzing, hissing, whistling, or any other sounds into the ears.

As estimated by the 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, for overtaking PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder).

Tinnitus can be the result of various health conditions and are even caused by earwax blockage.  Some of the health conditions resulting tinnitus are:

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 often-repeated preventive measure is to avoid loud noise or at least protect your ear against them with earplugs, earmuffs or any other hearing protection methods.

Recently a trial conducted by the National Center for Rehabilitative Auditory Research (NCRAR) in the United States demonstrated that individuals treated with Levo® sound therapy (treating tinnitus while you are sleeping) experienced a reduction in the loudness of tinnitus compared to those with normal tinnitus therapy. With this therapy, you don’t need to rely on hearing aids for the rest of your life.

pillow with sound therapy treatment for tinnitus

Latest Research for Tinnitus

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

ATA funded researches

Over the last 35 years, the American Tinnitus Association(ATA) has funded the research for a cure. Some latest research projects funded by ATA are-

  • Information Masking and Tinnitus Adaptation (2016-17)
  • A New Approach to Diagnosing Hyperacusis in Tinnitus Patients (2016-17)
  • The Role of Cochlear Synaptopathy in Tinnitus (2017-18)
  • Validating the Gap-Startle Model of Tinnitus Detection Using Behavioral and Electrophysiological Tests in Humans (2017-18)

ESIT’s innovative perspective on tinnitus research

The European School for Interdisciplinary Tinnitus research(ESIT) supports fundamental science and clinical research projects in order to advance new treatment solutions for tinnitus, improve existing treatment paradigms, developing innovative research methods.

Research-specific work package 1. “Meaningful individual differences”

Lopez-Escamez coordinates this. It seeks to examine meaningful individual differences in tinnitus by summing up the knowledge and experience from all related clinical and scientific disciplines and combining it with patient-centered and commercial perspectives.

Research-specific work package 2. “novel personalized treatment solutions”

Weisz coordinates this. And this seeks to develop novel personalized treatment solutions that respect each patient profile and integrate them with state-of-the-art technological innovations.

Research-specific work package 3. “comparability of scientific and clinical results”

Gallus coordinates this. It seeks to promote international comparability of findings across all major relevant disciplines.

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.

New ways to treat Tinnitus?

Tinnitus having no permanent cure yet, still can be managed with the help of several management solutions i.e Hearing aids for tinnitus or relief therapy. It helps to lessen the 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

There is a new smartphone app – Whist by Sensimetrics Corporation. It functions like those wearable sound generators. There are several other apps like Tinnitus Balance which serve the same purpose as generators an are available on both iPhones and Androids. 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 the ability of brain activity to be remolded. Daniel Polley works as a neuroscientist at the Massachusetts Eye and Ear Infirmary. He specializes in Neural Plasticity. According to him, the abnormal brain waves found is fixable. The sound 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 motive is to train the participate brain. While the game is still on, they will 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 participants themselves choose the music. 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.

Hearing loss and tinnitus, both are challenging in their own. But if you deal with them properly, you can surely beat them. It may not be easy, but it’s possible, and with the right approach, relief is just around the corner.

Your Ultimate Guide to the Latest Research for Tinnitus
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