Sunday, January 24, 2010

Ring, Ring! Who's There? Tinnitus - Or, Maybe Not!

My wife suddenly woke up from a nap this afternoon thinking the phone was ringing. It wasn't, but she could not believe it had seemed so real! Some people have a ringing in their ears all the time called Tinnitus. Scientists and doctors are still not sure what causes Tinnitus, but sometimes damage to our ears from consistently loud noise is one of the suspected causes. There may also be some effect from certain drug use or even illness. I actually have a little bit of Tinnitus that I notice when it is very quiet or before I go to sleep. It does not bother me during the day or keep me from hearing things well. I can actually hear up to 18,000 Hz (which is pretty good for my age!). I think my Tinnitus started after a very high fever in reaction to a Tetanus booster. If I am exposed to any increased intensity of sound for awhile I have noticed that the Tinnitus seems louder to me for an hour after the loud noise.

Many people have Tinnitus much worse than mine that does affect their quality of life. It is not an uncommon or trivial condition. The research recently posted in the news is extremely interesting in how they have used music to "retrain" people's minds to somehow ignore the Tinnitus!

German researchers took subject preferred music selections and modified them so that no sound frequencies existed in the frequency range of each subject's Tinnitus. Eight subjects listened to this music through headphones for one year and reported a significant decrease in self-described Tinnitus. The eight subjects who did not receive the modified music did not report a decrease in Tinnitus symptoms. The researchers believe that the brain cortex responsible for decoding the information from the inner ear can be trained to reorganize the information and diminish the cognitive processes that may cause Tinnitus.

I think this is very encouraging! The authors of the research were also excited that a possible treatment for Tinnitus might be developed at relatively low cost and without side effects. I think one year is a long time for treatment, but hopefully they may do some follow studies to refine the process and shorten the treatment time.

The abstract for the research is here.

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