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05.06.2014

Tinnitus latest research, tinnitus ear sensitivity - Review

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An even more powerful driver of tinnitus research is the enormous incidence of the problem among Iraq and Afghanistan war veterans who’ve suffered blast damage.
The conventional theory is that tinnitus is the brain’s response to damage of the tiny hair cells in the inner ear. Scientists have thought that tinnitus occurs when the auditory brain centers try to fill in the gaps caused by this hair-cell damage by creating phantom sounds.
But this theory of tinnitus “might not be entirely correct,” says Phillip Gander of the University of Iowa.
A new report’s findings suggest that tinnitus is more complicated than scientists thought. In essence, the researchers have discovered the signature of tinnitus — at least in the case of one Iowa man who has suffered from tinnitus for years, probably from recreational gun use. This 50-year-old man gave researchers a rare opportunity: the ability to record his brain waves from a wide network of electrodes implanted directly into his brain.
To identify the neuronal signature of tinnitus, they needed to turn it off — or at least turn down the volume of the phantom sound.
By monitoring the patient’s brain waves while his tinnitus was active or silenced, they could identify the brain waves associated with his tinnitus. Interestingly, even though multiple areas of the Iowa man’s brain are involved, he has only mild tinnitus.


But the discovery that tinnitus can involve many areas of the brain is not especially good news. He thinks the abnormal tinnitus-associated brain waves found in the Iowa patient are fixable by using sound to retrain the brain. In both, the first step is to identify the pitch or frequency of the phantom tone in each research subject’s own tinnitus. The game is structured so the tones close to the subject’s own tinnitus don’t help win the game. In music therapy, subjects listen to music of their choice that has been filtered to remove their tinnitus tone. That dovetails with the Iowa research showing the abnormal brain waves of tinnitus reach into areas involved with emotion, attention and memory. If they succeed, Polley thinks they’ll find that tinnitus sufferers will have to keep practicing the game or music therapy or whatever is shown to work, or the effect will fade. An effective treatment might also prevent tinnitus from getting worse with age, as normal hearing loss occurs. Research by Richard Salvi and colleagues in China and Canada may provide insights into how tinnitus may develop and be sustained.
At least one in every six Americans suffers from tinnitus — around 50 million people.


But after decades of dead-end research, scientists are beginning to figure out what causes the constant ringing, whistling, whooshing or hissing that makes sufferers feel trapped inside their own heads. He’s currently studying a second epilepsy patient with tinnitus, and is trying to find more. In fact, there’s already an app that “notches out” the pitches in music represented by a user’s tinnitus tones. My tinnitus was probably caused by pressure from a middle-ear infection years ago that blew out my right eardrum. Of these, the condition is “burdensome” for 20 million, according to the American Tinnitus Foundation.
Meanwhile, he hopes researchers can validate the findings in animals with an experimental form of tinnitus.
In a tinnitus patient, neural activity in the region for a particular tone, or range of tones, “is often disorganized and hyperactive,” Polley says. The Harvard group hopes to fine-tune this approach and show that it works in a broad range of tinnitus sufferers.



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