Tinnitus: New therapies fight phantom noises

Discussion in 'Et Cetera, Et Cetera' started by Principessa, Apr 2, 2008.

  1. Principessa

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    April 1, 2008

    New Therapies Fight Phantom Noises of Tinnitus

    By KATE MURPHY

    Modern life is loud. The jolting buzz of an alarm clock awakens the ears to a daily din of trucks idling, sirens blaring, televisions droning, computers pinging and phones ringing — not to mention refrigerators humming and air-conditioners thrumming. But for the 12 million Americans who suffer from severe tinnitus, the phantom tones inside their head are louder than anything else.

    Often caused by prolonged or sudden exposure to loud noises, tinnitus (pronounced tin-NIGHT-us or TIN-nit-us) is becoming an increasingly common complaint, particularly among soldiers returning from combat, users of portable music players, and aging baby boomers reared on rock ’n’ roll. (Other causes include stress, some kinds of chemotherapy, head and neck trauma, sinus infections, and multiple sclerosis.)

    Although there is no cure, researchers say they have never had a better understanding of the cascade of physiological and psychological mechanisms responsible for tinnitus. As a result, new treatments under investigation — some of them already on the market — show promise in helping patients manage the ringing, pinging and hissing that otherwise drives them to distraction.

    The most promising therapies, experts say, are based on discoveries made in the last five years about the brain activity of people with tinnitus. With brain-scanning equipment like functional magnetic resonance imaging, researchers in the United States and Europe have independently discovered that the brain areas responsible for interpreting sound and producing fearful emotions are exceptionally active in people who complain of tinnitus.

    “We’ve discovered that tinnitus is not so much ringing in the ears as ringing in the brain,” said Thomas J. Brozoski, a tinnitus researcher at Southern Illinois University School of Medicine in Springfield.

    Indeed, tinnitus can be intense in people with hearing loss and even those whose auditory nerves have been completely severed. In the absence of normal auditory stimulation, the brain is like a driver trying to tune in to a radio station that is out of range. It turns up the volume trying but gets only annoying static. Richard Salvi, director of the Center for Hearing and Deafness at the State University of New York at Buffalo, said the static could be “neural noise” — the sound of nerves firing. Or, he said, it could be a leftover sound memory.

    Adam Edwards, a 34-year-old co-owner of a wheel repair shop in Dallas, said he developed tinnitus four years ago after target shooting with a pistol. “I had all the risk factors,” he said. “I grew up hunting, I played drums in a band, I went to loud concerts, I have a loud work environment — everything but living next to a missile launch site.” His tinnitus, which he described as a “computer beeping” sound, was so intense and persistent that he needed sedatives to sleep at night.

    Mr. Edwards says he has gotten relief from a device developed by an Australian audiologist, which became widely available in the United States last year. Manufactured by Neuromonics Inc. of Bethlehem, Pa., it looks like an MP3 player and delivers sound spanning the full auditory spectrum, digitally embedded in soothing music.

    Similar to white noise, the broadband sound, tailored to each patient’s hearing ability, masks the tinnitus. (The music is intended to ease the anxiety that often accompanies the disorder.) Patients wear the $5,000 device, which is usually not covered by health insurance, for a minimum of two hours a day for six months. Since completing the treatment regimen last year, Mr. Edwards said his tinnitus had “become sort of like Muzak at a department store — you hear it if you think about it, but otherwise you don’t really notice.”

    A small, company-financed study in the journal Ear & Hearing in April 2007 indicated that the Neuromonics method was 90 percent successful at reducing tinnitus. A larger study is under way to determine its long-term effectiveness.

    Anne Howell, an audiologist at the Callier Center for Communication Disorders at the University of Texas at Dallas, said the Neuromonics device was a big improvement over older sound therapies that required wearing something that looked like a hearing aid all the time and took 18 to 24 months.

    “The length of time was discouraging for many patients,” she said. “And a lot of them told me that wearing something that looks like a hearing aid would cause a problem in their professional life.”

    Other treatments showing promise include surgically implanted electrodes and noninvasive magnetic stimulation, both intended to disrupt and possibly reset the faulty brain signals responsible for tinnitus. Using functional M.R.I. to guide them, neurosurgeons in Belgium have performed the implant procedure on several patients in the last year and say it has suppressed tinnitus entirely.

    But the treatment is controversial. “It’s a radical option and not proven yet,” said Jennifer R. Melcher, an assistant professor of otology and laryngology at Harvard Medical School.

     
  2. D_Portelay Porquesword

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    A firecracker went off near my head when I was 9.

    Every once in a while, I hear this tone in my ear that doesn't last very long.

    Or, could it be ET phoning home?
     
  3. Calboner

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    I saw this article in this morning's paper. It is poorly informed. It discusses treatments that involve sticking things in the brain and using a gadget that costs five thousand dollars, when for twenty years a treatment has been available that works on the same principle and can be administered through a simple CD player and ear phones. (The most effective means of administering it, however, is through sound generators that are worn on the ears like hearing aids: these cost upwards of $2,000.) The treatment was developed by Dr. Pawel Jastreboff of Emory University, who calls it tinnitus retraining therapy or TRT, though I think I have seen other terms used for it. Here is his web site, if anyone is interested.

    Dr. Jastreboff and his colleagues have published articles and books on this treatment, and there are practitioners scattered around the country who are trained in it. For all that, there seem to be many ENT doctors who don't know about it at all, and certainly most are not expert in it. Many sufferers from tinnitus receive the news that there is no cure for their condition -- which is true -- but are not told that there is a treatment that makes the condition far more bearable. I live in an urban area that is one of the greatest centers of medical research in the country, but I had to go to another state to find a doctor who could provide me with guidance in the treatment, as the sole specialist in my city who administers it has so many patients in line for it that you have to wait a full year to see him!

    Correction: After posting this, I read the following sentence in the full article: "Anne Howell, an audiologist at the Callier Center for Communication Disorders at the University of Texas at Dallas, said the Neuromonics device was a big improvement over older sound therapies that required wearing something that looked like a hearing aid all the time and took 18 to 24 months." That must refer to the sound generators used in TRT.
     
  4. Pecker

    Pecker Retired Moderator
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    I've have very loud tinnitus (since my late 20's) which I've been told I just have to live with.

    Since getting hearing aids last year, though, I notice it less. It's still there just as before, but I'm definitely hearing better.
     
  5. Mickactual

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    Me too. I can only describe it as sounding like those REALLY high tones they play when You get a hearing test. ...But picture hearing it 24/7. Drives me crazy sometimes. It's been suggested to me the cause is either all the loud amplified music thru the years (I'm a bass player), or stress. Take Your pick. Either way it appears I have to live with it.
    :irked:
     
  6. MidwestGal

    MidwestGal Member

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    I've had it at least since I was in Kindergarten both ears, now most days it's like a freakin fire alarm. Someone invents a real cure for this I will be first in line.

    Probably a indicator that you will have later hearing issues...my case specifically inner ear.
     
  7. ruperty

    ruperty Member

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    There's a cheap and short lived relief from tinitus by matching the same tone as the person hears, and playing it into their ear/s for a few minutes - it's helped some people to have minutes of relief, which they've not experienced for decades.

    I've not got it fortunately, but did have something like it which lasted for about 3 days. It really pissed me off for that time, I was chuffed when it went (obviously).
     
  8. curious n str8

    curious n str8 New Member

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    Ever since I was young I've that this ringing well not excatly ringing more like a high pitch humming like electicity through a power line it is constant but at times more pronouced than at other times :sigh1: I wonder what it be like just to hear normally:scratchchin:
     
  9. Mickactual

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    That damned piercing tone- it's constant - like one of those pitches that only dogs can hear. I've had it for years. I hear it as I'm typing this. UGH!
    There are some theorists who attribute it to radio wave sensitivity. All the microwaves, cell phones, satellite transmissions, etc. Could be...
    But I've always suffered allergies...congestion...sinus problems...which affect my ear fluids causing me occasional Ménière's Syndrome. I wouldn't doubt the Tinnitus is related somehow.
     
  10. Calboner

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    You guys really should look into TRT. I've been administering it to myself using a CD and ear phones for two or three hours a day for a couple of months, and now I am unconscious of my tinnitus even in quiet settings for long stretches of time. (With sound generators worn for six to eight hours a day, I probably would have gotten these results much more quickly.) Look at Dr. Jastreboff's web site, and maybe try writing to him to ask if he knows of an ENT doctor near you who administers the therapy. Doctors who tell you that there is nothing that you can do about tinnitus just aren't giving you the whole story. The effect of the therapy is not to make the tinnitus go away — nothing developed so far can do that — but to make it occupy a smaller and smaller part of your attention, ultimately to the point at which you don't even notice it unless you specifically listen for it.
     
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