One out of every five people in Portland suffers from tinnitus to some degree. It can prove so debilitating to some people, it impacts every aspect of their daily lives. Finding a cure has long been a top priority but has thus far proved elusive. A new research study involving mice has scientists hopeful that this is about to change.
Tinnitus Begins in the Brain
Tinnitus – considered a symptom of another underlying medical condition – affects everybody differently. It’s most often described as a ringing in the ears, but people have also reported buzzing, roaring, hissing, clicking, whooshing, whistling and humming sounds. It also varies in duration and intensity; some patients are barely affected, while others find it seriously impacts their quality of life. Stress, anxiety, lack of sleep, concentration difficulties, impaired memory and depression are common side effects.
There is no cure for tinnitus; instead, your Portland audiologist recommends a number of coping strategies to help you manage the distraction. Masking techniques, noise avoidance, exercise, meditation and prescription drugs often help – but they aren’t a permanent cure.
Researchers from the University of Arizona appear to be headed in the right direction, however. They conducted a study on mice with hearing loss and their findings, published in a recent issue of the PLOS Biology Journal, offer tantalizing new hope that a cure may be found soon.
The research team was able to pinpoint where tinnitus and other hearing disorders, including hyperacusis and central auditory processing disorder, originate: in the region of the brain that processes sound – the auditory cortex. Specifically, they learned that inflammation in the nervous system was the trigger for these types of hearing problems, with a specific molecule known as TNF-A (tumour necrosis factor alpha) responsible for interfering with communication between hearing neurons. When this protein was blocked, researchers were able to not only treat, but actually reverse, tinnitus in the mice. Their results confirmed previous studies that showed a link between hearing loss and inflammation in the auditory pathway, but until now its effect on tinnitus and other related conditions was unknown.
Despite these promising early results, further research must be done in order to determine what, if any, side effects this treatment might have. Eventually, it is hoped that testing will expand to human subjects.
Until then, your Portland audiologist has plenty of strategies to help you manage your tinnitus and lessen its impact on your quality of life. For more information or to schedule an appointment, contact an audiologist today.