Brain Making Too Much Noise? Reboot It

As many as 23 million adults in the United States suffer from tinnitus - a ringing sound in the ears that won't go away. Scientists may have found a way to ease the currently cure-less affliction by rebooting the brain.

Tinnitus is more common than you think. One in ten seniors and 40 per cent of military vets suffer from this affliction, which causes the brain to generate a noise that no one else can hear. It can be a ringing or a chirping, a whooshing or a clicking - no matter what it sounds like, only the person afflicted can hear it. I can only imagine how maddening that must be.

What causes this affliction?

"Brain changes in response to nerve damage or cochlear trauma cause irregular neural activity believed to be responsible for many types of chronic pain and tinnitus," said Michael Kilgard of the University of Texas...We believe the part of the brain that processes sounds — the auditory cortex — delegates too many neurons to some frequencies, and things begin to go awry," he said.

Kilgard is the co-author of a study published in the journal Nature that could give tinnitus sufferer's some relief from this aggravating condition.

The key is sending a reset signal to the auditory cortex.

Using lab rats as test subjects, researchers electronically stimulated the vagus nerve, which runs from the head down the neck and into the abdomen, while playing a high-pitched tone. When stimulated, the vagus nerve encourages the brain to produce neurotransmitters like acetylcholine and norepinephrine, which in turn encourage changes in the brain, effectively reorganizing the neurons to respond to the correct frequencies.

Rats treated with the combination of stimulus and sound exhibited normal levels of activity in their auditory cortex following treatment, indicating that the tinnitus had disappeared. Researchers say the rats remained unaffected by the affliction for up to three and a half months.

So it's a temporary fix, but it's potentially more effective than any other temporary fix.

"The key is that, unlike previous treatments, we're not masking the tinnitus, we're not hiding the tinnitus," said Kilgard. "We are returning the brain from a state where it generates tinnitus to a state that does not generate tinnitus. We are eliminating the source of the tinnitus."

Clinical trials are expected to kick off in the coming months.

Vagus nerve stimulation - the rebooting method - is already being used to treat people with epilepsy and depression, with the neural plasticity generated by the effect making it easier for scientists to handle brain circuits. Pair it with sound treats tinnitus. Perhaps pairing it with scent could help people suffering from olfactory reference syndrome?

The more we poke about the brain the better we get at fixing it. Isn't science grand?

'Rebooting' brain could ease ringing in ears [Breitbart - AFP]


Comments

    "One in ten seniors and 40 per cent of military vets suffer from this affliction, which causes the brain to generate a noise that no one else can hear."

    I'd just like to add that this may lead some kiddies out there in 'nuffin will hurt me' land to pay little or no attention to this. Which is really sad, because the levels of ear damage amongst the younger generations these days caused by louder than ever concerts and especially the jam it in your ear, turn it up to full ipod wearers are set to make tinnitus are very common problem among the 20 something crowds. So, TURN YOUR FRICKEN IPODS DOWN YOU DAMN SILHOUETTED DANCE FREAK NUTTERS!

    This has been Doc Q lookin out for you!
    *points outta screen winking.

    (also, really cool med tech!)

      I'm amazed at people that listen to ipods or mp3 players on full volume, I can't stand to put mine up past about 1/3rd or it just gets annoyingly loud. I would hate to think how much damage that is actually doing and how early poor hearing will come on for these people. Even most 'pubs' these days have music blasting so loud you can hardly talk to the people sitting next to you.

      "So, TURN YOUR FRICKEN IPODS DOWN YOU DAMN SILHOUETTED DANCE FREAK NUTTERS!"

      They should buy a decent set of earbuds, the reason they turn those crappy ipod ones up so loud is because they're crap and don't seal the ear so the volume has to go up to cover outside noise.

      I personally swear by my Sony NX2 in-ear buds, they seal up the ear, blocking outside noise, so you can listen to music at a low volume comfortably. And it has the added advantage of letting me pretend I don't hear the phone ringing at work...!

      Back in high school I wondered the same thing, and then I gradually turned up my own MP3 player louder and louder as it seemed to get quieter, and nowadays I've got pretty bad tinnitus.
      I couldn't possibly listen to music that loud now, though. Don't know why I decided to blast out my ears when I was younger.

    I have had Tinnitus for 15 years now and although i can mentally manage it now, it has been the cause of many a head [email protected]#k for me over the years.

    I got mine from industrial noise but like Qumulys said, i pity all the gen y (and younger) dickheads that are too cool and stupid to take advice from people when it comes to things like this.

    Thanks for that bit of non-game related news, for someone like me it is actually a really positive article that could give hope to me and millions of others in 5-10 years.

      Good luck with a hopeful cure in the future mate :)
      I'm hoping this kind of tech will also help the aging ears of many an audio engineer, one of whom regularly attends our concerts in Pakenham (I'm looking at you, fat guy with the grey beard and the hawaiian shirts). As they age, our ears start to lose their high end range, so this makes tubby mixer man turn the treble up so high, thinking it sounds good to him, meanwhile searing and shrilling my cochleas.
      If this tech restores full (or at least close to) 20Hz-20kHz hearing range then I'd get it done just to enjoy music in even more detail :D

        i'm afraid that part would still be damaged, this isn't talking about repairing the audio frequencies you loose due to noise around you. that damage is already done and is currently not repairable, this is more about fixing the brain to not 'hear something that isn't there'
        Liken it more to a phantom limb whereby you can't replace your removed arm but your brain still gets a sensation to itch it (i think...i still have both my arms)

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