Tinnitus – Ancient Problem, Recent Discoveries & Potential Treatments

by A. DiMario
Tinnitus is the perception of noise or ringing in the ears. The first written account of medical treatment of tinnitus is all the way back to the Egyptians…
Statistics show about 50 million Americans report tinnitus; 20 million find it bothersome. One long-held theory regarding its cause is that the brain recreates the sound frequencies missing from the cochlear hearing loss. Hearing aid use is most often prescribed and is credited with a very high success rate for eliminating/reducing tinnitus (85+ %). A more recent theory sees tinnitus as “sensory epilepsy”, and indeed, epilepsy drugs have reduced some tinnitus1. But more recent research points towards both specific and global causes, which could lead to new and more effective treatments.
In 2011, Dr Tzounopoulos2 and his team at Pittsburg School of Medicine showed that tinnitus was present in mice when there was a block in a GABA producing pathway. In other words: too little inhibition to suppress the hyperactivity in the dorsal cochlear nuclei. In 20153, they did follow up research on mice that were tinnitus resistant after noise exposure and found that certain ion channels in the cells behaved differently. Now, they are working with biochemists to develop new medication.
Also, in 2015, Will Sedley and Phillip Gander (Human Brain Research Laboratory4) were able to measure the “neuronal signature of tinnitus” while performing brain surgery on an epileptic patient to reduce his seizures. Gander said: “We found … almost all the hearing parts of the brain are involved, plus a number of other areas …related to processing emotion and memory and attention.”5  Another neuroscientist, Dr. Daniel Polley is further using brain wave measurement in research with victims who developed tinnitus from the Boston Marathon bombing6. Using music and audio/video games, he wants to see if neural plasticity will normalize the subjects’ brain waves. He identifies their tinnitus frequencies in order to filter those frequencies out of the music and games. Then the subjects learn to suppress the bothersome frequencies and increase adjoining frequencies. Using music adds an emotional aspect, which increases the chemical activity required to stimulate brain plasticity. Polley and his group think this therapy will require at least some ongoing maintenance but hope it may also prevent tinnitus from increasing with age.

For more information on tinnitus and treatment options, contact Hearing Partners of South Florida:                                                                               Delray – 561-638-6530           Boynton – 561-736-6002        Jupiter – 5661-888-7260

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