In a recent study published in the Journal of Neuroscience, researchers at the University of Michigan Medical School have confirmed new findings about tinnitus that may lead to more treatment options.
Today, roughly 50 million Americans experience tinnitus-- a disrupting ringing, buzzing or whooshing sensation in the ears.
Susan Shore, the senior author of the study, said the team discovered those with tinnitus experience a process called stimulus-timing dependent multisensory plasticity within their dorsal cochlear nucleus, meaning that the audio information sent to their brains has been limited.
The dorsal cochlear nucleus is where the ear first sends auditory signals to the brain. But, the area is also where “multitasking” neurons integrate other sensory signals, such as touch, along with hearing information.† For those who experience tinnitus, some of the brain’s input to the cochlea is reduced, while signals to the nerves of the face and neck, related to touch, are amplified.
Shore explains, “It’s as if the signals are compensating for the lost auditory input, but they overcompensate and end up making everything noisy.”
Using their findings, the team is currently developing a device to combine sound and electrical stimulation of the face and neck to normalize the neuron activity and alleviate tinnitus.
This study sheds new light on the relationship between tinnitus, hearing loss and sensory input.
According to the American Tinnitus Association, the most likely source of tinnitus is exposure to excessively loud noise. However, if one is regularly exposed to loud noise, there is a chance they may also have hearing loss.
Receiving annual hearing evaluations will help monitor one’s overall hearing health and address any concerns, such as tinnitus, in their early stages.
There is currently no cure for tinnitus, only devices that work to ease the symptoms.
To learn more about these treatments, click here.
Last updated: 1/22/2014