Around 50 million Americans suffer from tinnitus – a hissing or ringing sound in the head that won’t seem to go away, with over two million of these individuals being severely disabled. Doctors have struggled to find a treatment that works. Anti-depressants and sound therapy that simply masks the ringing have been prescribed to those currently experience persistent tinnitus.
There has been some recent and exciting progress made in the direction to quell tinnitus. Being explosed to very loud noises, head injuries, certain medication, and age-related hearing loss are believed to be some of the culprits for tinnitus. Researchers have recently discovered that the perception of sound usually occurs in a part of the auditory cortex of the brain and not the ears.
Michael Kilgard, a scientist at the University of Texas at Dallas, conducted a study where he exposed rats to loud noises. After exposing them to these loud sounds he used tiny electrodes to stimulate the rats’ vagus nerve, and played a wide range of tones 300 times a day for three weeks. The tinnitus disappeared in the rats, while the control group still had the condition. The study made the rats unlearn the tendency to over focus on one tone by increasing the number of brain cells dedicated to other sound frequencies.
Kilgard’s study has lead to an ongoing human tail that is in the preliminary stages conducted by Dirk De Ridder, M.D., a neurosurgeon who heads a tinnitus clinic in Antwerp, Belgium. In the study 10 middle-aged patients whom have tried other options that did not work, have had electrodes implanted to stimulate the vagus nerve. While it is in the beginning stages, De Ridder says that the results have been promising but not a hundred percent successful.
These studies may be in the very early stages but nothing ever before has shown such promise for tinnitus sufferers. A cure may now be more important than ever, as a large percentage of war veterans are experiencing this troubling problem. While the commercially available cure may be years off, this gives hope for many who were hopeless before.