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New Hope for Tinnitus Sufferers?

Do you suffer from tinnitus, a constant noise or ringing in your head or ears? If so, you may be interested in the findings of a new study carried out to identify the brain network that’s responsible.

While most people think that tinnitus is a condition which just affects the ears, it actually affects a fairly extensive network of the brain. During a recent study carried out by researchers at the University of Iowa and Newcastle University in the UK, direct recordings were made of the brain of a tinnitus sufferer. This enabled them to find the networks in the brain which are responsible for the condition.

Although most of us will suffer from intermittent bouts of tinnitus, and some degree of hearing loss as we age is normal, about 10 – 15% of the population are affected by chronic tinnitus. While there are several causes, it’s generally thought to arise as a result of a noise trauma. Unfortunately, despite its prevalence, there is currently no cure and no effective treatment.

The study was centred around a 50 year old male who exhibited bilateral tinnitus, meaning that it affected both ears. His tinnitus comprised of a single, high-frequency tone and he had already been diagnosed with hearing loss. In order to study what happens in the brain during tinnitus, the researchers attempted to suppress the sound by playing a loud noise, as it’s been found that tinnitus can reduce or go away completely immediately after the loud noise ceases. Brain scans taken as the tinnitus went away were then studied and compared to his normal brain activity.

Using this method, the researchers concluded that tinnitus doesn’t just affect the sound areas of the brain, but other areas too, including the regions which control emotions, mood and memory. Currently psychological treatments, such as cognitive behavioural therapy, have proved successful for treating patients with tinnitus induced distress, as it helps people to develop coping strategies and strategies to ignore the sounds. However, a cure for the condition still remains elusive. This study shows that treatments have so far proved ineffective as they are not targeting enough regions of the brain, however even with this new information, effective treatment is likely to prove very complicated.

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