New research shows tinnitus sufferers are able to retrain their brains to help cope with constant ringing.
Tinnitus, an annoyingly persistent ringing in the ears, affects nearly one-third of adults over 65. People who suffer from tinnitus report a wide range of coping mechanisms. Many never come to terms with the constant buzzing, humming and ticking – but some people with chronic tinnitus have developed some unique ways of dealing with the problem, according to a new study.
In this study, just released by the University of Illinois, researchers discovered something intriguing – people who have developed the best coping mechanisms for living with tinnitus are utilizing pathways in the brain that people who cannot ignore symptoms don’t seem to have access to. The bottom line is: people who are less bothered by tinnitus symptoms use different brain regions when processing ‘emotional’ information.
The Study Results
Researchers used functional magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), an imaging tool that makes it possible to see changes in blood oxygen levels in the brain while subjects are engaged in an activity. Results revealed that patients who coped better with tinnitus used an entirely different pathway to process emotional information. This pathway did not rely on the amygdala, which is believed to play a role in emotion processing in the brain. Instead, patients who had adapted to their tinnitus symptoms used more of the brain’s frontal lobe, a region critical for attention, planning and impulse control. The researchers suggested that the greater activation of the frontal lobe might be helping to control emotional responses and reduce tinnitus distress.
Tinnitus Is A Big Problem
According to the American Tinnitus Association more than 50 million Americans experience tinnitus, often to a debilitating degree, making it one of the most common health conditions in the U.S. It is estimated that about 20 million people struggle with chronic tinnitus, and 2 million of those have extreme and debilitating symptoms. Perhaps not surprising considering the noise of combat, veterans are the fastest growing segment of the population suffering from severe tinnitus, now estimated at about 972,000 individuals.
Hearing Loss And Tinnitus