New research illuminates the relationship between tinnitus, hearing loss, and sensory input, and helps explain why many tinnitus sufferers can change the volume and pitch of their tinnitus's sound by clenching their jaw or by moving their head and neck. (Credit: Paul Mison/Flickr)

Treatment shows promise for hushing tinnitus

For tens of millions of Americans, there’s no such thing as the sound of silence. Instead, even in a quiet room, they hear a constant ringing, buzzing, hissing, humming, or other noise in their ears that isn’t real.

Tinnitus, or ringing in the ears, may be the result of sensory nerves in the face and neck trying to compensate for a reduction of input from the ear’s cochlea, new research shows.

The findings by University of Michigan Medical School researchers offer a new target for treating the condition. The team has a patent pending and device in development based on the approach.

Susan Shore, the senior author of the paper, explains that her team has confirmed that a process called stimulus-timing dependent multisensory plasticity is altered in animals with tinnitus—and that this plasticity is “exquisitely sensitive” to the timing of signals coming in to a key area of the brain. The findings are published online in the Journal of Neuroscience.

That area, called the dorsal cochlear nucleus, is the first station for signals arriving in the brain from the ear via the auditory nerve. But it’s also a center where “multitasking” neurons integrate other sensory signals, such as touch, with the hearing information.

Shore, who leads a lab in the Kresge Hearing Research Institute, is a professor of otolaryngology and molecular and integrative physiology and of biomedical engineering.

Amplified touch

She explains that in tinnitus, some of the input to the brain from the ear’s cochlea is reduced, while signals from the somatosensory nerves of the face and neck, related to touch, are excessively amplified.

“It’s as if the signals are compensating for the lost auditory input, but they overcompensate and end up making everything noisy,” says Shore.

The new findings illuminate the relationship between tinnitus, hearing loss, and sensory input, and helps explain why many tinnitus sufferers can change the volume and pitch of their tinnitus’s sound by clenching their jaw or by moving their head and neck.

But it’s not just the combination of loud noise and overactive somatosensory signals that are involved in tinnitus, the researchers report.

It’s the precise timing of these signals in relation to one another that prompt the changes in the nervous system’s plasticity mechanisms, which may lead to the symptoms known to tinnitus sufferers.

Shore and her colleagues, including former biomedical engineering graduate student and first author Seth Koehler, hope their findings will eventually help many of the 50 million people in the United States and millions more worldwide who have the condition, according to the American Tinnitus Association. They hope to bring science-based approaches to the treatment of a condition for which there is no cure—and for which many unproven would-be therapies exist.

Prevalence of risk

Tinnitus especially affects baby boomers, who, as they reach an age at which hearing tends to diminish, increasingly experience tinnitus. The condition most commonly occurs with hearing loss, but can also follow head and neck trauma, such as after an auto accident, or dental work.

Loud noises and blast forces experienced by members of the military in war zones also can trigger the condition. Tinnitus is a top cause of disability among members and veterans of the armed forces.

Researchers still don’t understand what protective factors might keep some people from developing tinnitus, while others exposed to the same conditions experience tinnitus.

In this study, only half of the animals receiving a noise-overexposure developed tinnitus. This is similarly the case with humans—not everyone with hearing damage ends up with tinnitus. An important finding in the new paper is that animals that did not get tinnitus showed fewer changes in their multisensory plasticity than those with evidence of tinnitus. In other words, their neurons were not hyperactive.

Customized treatment

Shore is now working with other students and postdoctoral fellows to develop a device that uses the new knowledge about the importance of signal timing to alleviate tinnitus. The device will combine sound and electrical stimulation of the face and neck in order to return to normal the neural activity in the auditory pathway.

“If we get the timing right, we believe we can decrease the firing rates of neurons at the tinnitus frequency, and target those with hyperactivity,” says Shore. She and her colleagues are also working to develop pharmacological manipulations that could enhance stimulus timed plasticity by changing specific molecular targets.

But, she notes, any treatment will likely have to be customized to each patient, and delivered on a regular basis. And some patients may be more likely to derive benefit than others.

The National Institutes of Health supported the research. The Coulter Translational Research Partnership, which is supported by the Wallace H. Coulter Foundation and the University of Michigan, is funding the device project.

Source: University of Michigan

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42 Comments

  1. Andacar

    I look forward to this research with interest, though excuse me if I don’t get my hopes up too much. It isn’t me being a fatalist, just practical.

  2. Diane

    I have suffered with tinnitus for at least 50 years. I have learned to ignore it. I hope this research can help many others. At 71 years old, it’s too late for me.

  3. Abraham

    Some years ago I developed tinnitus and hearing loss, now total, in my right ear as a result of an acoustic neuroma. I have undergone successful gamma knife therapy which stopped the growth of the tumour. The doctors told me that my hearing loss and tinnitus were permanent in spite of the radiation. Does this new approach have any promise in my case? While my reading of the above brief says no, I thought it worthwhile to ask.

  4. Stuart

    In my earliest childhood memories I have had ringing ears. It was disruptive and debilitating. After years of searching and much wasted money, no “remedy” has worked. After 40 years of constant crickets and whistles I’ve just accepted that it is the way things are.

  5. Janet

    I never used to have tinnitus, but many of the meds I now take mention ringing in the ears as a side effect.

  6. Stacy

    Could this help lead to curing it? I hope so even though i know its years and years away… Means that theres still hope!

  7. Barry Keate

    When someone with tinnitus can alter the volume and pitch of the tinnitus sound by clenching their jaw or moving their head, it is referred to as somatic tinnitus. The most common somatic signals are caused by spasm of the sternocleidomastoid muscle (SCM) or by temporomandibular joint dysfunction (TMJ).

    Source: http://www.tinnitusformula.com/library/somatic-tinnitus

  8. jake jerde

    thats years away try acupuncture

  9. Sufferer

    When I first heard of Tinnitus, and even listened to a mp3 of how it sounds, I began to feel really sorry for the sufferers. I was also very worried about getting it myself. Destiny is a sadist.

  10. Thomas

    Let me know if it works. I’ll be waiting…

  11. SG

    I developed tinnitus after getting some dental work done. I have seen neurologist and ENT’s with several MRI’s, MRA’s and cat scans, to no avail, no cause found. It has significantly affected my hearing and is bothersome to constantly hear the ringing in my ear. I hope this new study has found the cure to this issue.

  12. Roger

    Hi all, I have had the cicadas in my ears for ages due to machinary use and the best ear muffs can`t stop it from getting worse after continued noise. It does get a little less after a few days of quiet. Even ear plugs and ear muffs on at the same time don`t seem to stop it returning with a vengence. Such is life. I shall be watching to see if anything can be done.

  13. Steve Leach

    I’ve had tinnitus for almost 3 years – I am now 57. The only time I get relief from it is in the late summer when the crickets are out. When I find a spot where crickets gather, I guess in the 100s, I stay for a while. For the most part I can ignore it, but I certainly dislike a silent home. Music all the time, and headphones overnight.

  14. Carl

    I willing to try the new treatment.
    Anything that gets rid of the whistling sound has got to be worth a try

  15. James Teschner

    I am 58 years old and first noticed tinnitus when I bought a house in France and experienced the quiet of country life. At the time I was living in New York City so I never was aware of it. I now live in France full time and I love the sound of silence, except this terrible ringing makes it impossible to enjoy silence. It seems to be getting louder, and of course, that’s terribly discouraging and a bit scary (might it escalate, the fear says). IF you have any kind of positive treatments, I would love to be informed. I realize people suffer from much, much worse things than this, and I also count my blessings, but I admit, I would like to be free of this. I suspect my “freedom” will come in accepting it. But if there are any developments, I would really like to know.

    Most sincerely,
    James Teschner

  16. Beckam

    Test solution. It will helps: http://tinyurl.com/myb35ms

  17. Maria

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  18. Joella Drury

    I developed tinnitus after an ear infection 2 years ago..it is non stop. I tell my brain that it is the sound of the air-conditioner going (when in the office) or crickets when at home..I live near the ocean and have also deluded my brain to believe what I am hearing is the ocean. It gets much worse under stress or when I am ill, I cannot delude myself then.

  19. mel doughty

    I’ve had hissing in my ears since a tooth extraction 3wks ago; before that I only got it when I clenched my jaw. I’ve reacted badly to general anaesthetic before, so not sure if it was the local I had for the extraction, or the pulling on the jaw! (My neck’s a bit crunchy but not particularly stiff.)

  20. Toni

    I have had high pitch tinnitus for over a year and pray daily for a cure.

  21. ricky foy

    all bullshit until proven

  22. REYADH ALKHOURY

    I got tinnitus since one year. am using Gingko Biloba
    60 mg pills.4 times a day . am live normally

  23. Marie Coffland

    C’mon guys, don’t lose all hope yet. We didn’t even think they’d come up with this good of an explanation for a CAUSE of tinitus this soon. I share the suffering of tinitus and the worry of it possibility getting worse. The only help I have to offer from my experience is that I’ve taken Wellbutrin which I think has lowered the feelings of distress that come with my tinitus. This is an understatement by the way. My tinitus is debilitating without anti-depressants. My tinitus worsened this last year and I had to increase my Wellbutrin and add Citalipram. I now take 200 mg of Wellbutrin and 40mg of Citalipram. It sucks. But I can now go about my daily living and enjoy life. Try to hang in there. I hope the best for us all.

  24. tony allen

    Try white noise in your headphone or your tablet puts me to bed.

  25. Domenico De Mattia

    I suffer from tinnitus to ‘left ear since November 2012 after a bout of dizziness but I no longer had.
    I would like to be informed on the progress of your studies, hoping to benefit from a therapy that can deliver me and all the others from this torture.
    Hurry!
    Mimmo De Mattia
    Naples – Italy

  26. Billy bob

    Autifony Therapeutics,in my opinion they are the closest to a real cure and their research and technologhy is amazing.They have a drug in clinical trials as we speak which just passed stage1 making it harmless and well tolerated in humans.Their drug compound aut00063 completely abolished Tinnitus behaviour in animal studies with a near 100% success rate and is entering stage 2 trials at the end of this year.Fingers crossed.

  27. Terry

    Hey billy bob, is there any proof of this on the net? A link to some articles perhaps

  28. BillyBobSilly
  29. Bryan

    I was treated for Scarlet Fever in the mid 50s and developed tinnitus in my teens. The ringing would come and then fade, until 1973 when I was 22 when it came and did not fade. I remember the date well. I was told that the damage to the nerve endings in my inner ear was due to the disease, or the drugs that were used to treat it. I learnt to live with it. I have lost about 70% of my hearing and wear aids in both ears but have got through life quite successfully. Fast forward 40 years to 2013 and I am now 62. I noticed that my right aid seemed a bit low on volume. Following a hearing test, it was confirmed that I’d “lost a bit” in the right ear (so it wasn’t the aid). At the same time, I was aware of a second tinnitus sound….a considerably more louder hum. I have coped with the ringing, but this additional, louder hum, on top of the ringing, and this has affected my life. It would be fantastic to reduce the level of my tinnitus without affecting my hearing.

  30. Bryan

    Billy Bob….I have seen something in today’s (16th June 2014) paper about these developments in Australia. I REALLY hope it is developing and I am sure that with today’s medical and scientific developments, we may well be able to alter auditory signals to the brain. What puzzles me is that given that most tinnitus is Subjective (i.e. noises inside the head that can only be heard by the sufferer)….how do the scientists know/hear the animal’s tinnitus and therefore the improvement?

  31. Antony

    I contracted tinnitus 2weeks after a firework went off near my ears in an accident .i went to the doctors and was told to go home and put a radio on.
    I was so traumatised by this ,words cannot express how distraught I had become.
    Here in the uk the doctors don’t give a shit about anyone with tinnitus and don’t take it seriousley at all.
    3 years on I have learned to cope with it in my own way and have found that taking creatine supplement as well as ginkgo biloba that contains 24 percent flavoursides seems to suppress it .
    There is machine on the market at the moment that is called a neuromodulation stimulant that plays a prescribed sound in your ears and has promising results but it costs £5000 which is a lot of cash for something that’s not 100 percent workable .
    I long for silence and feel some solice in knowing that I don’t suffer alone .

  32. woody knox

    thanks billy bob

  33. woody knox

    Antony brother. Youre certainly not alone.. you know all the way here in South Africa there arent so many people that know about this condition. Infact i havent met or spoken to anyone with it before. Im experiencing it as a musician and its a bit stressful because i have to keep playing and have to come to a make it or break it point in in my carrer. Its not easy,but we are strong beings that go through some of the most unbearable times in our lives. Lets give ourselves a cheer up!

  34. Milton

    I’m 77. I’ve had tinnitus for many, many years. While in the military, it didn’t bother me too much because I worked in electronics equipment rooms and the noise of blower motors masked the ringing. After retiring from the military, I had a similar civilian job and the masking continued. I retired three years ago and now the noise is more of a bother because I’m not in a noisy environment. I have what’s called “somatic tinnitus.” I can increase the ringing sound by yawning, moving my head from side-to-side, pressing certain points on my face, head, etc. Sometimes, the ringing sound increases and decreases without my doing anything. I’ve tried Ginkgo biloba and other “remedies.” but none have worked. I accidentally banged my head several times during my military career, flew in noisy airplanes, was in close proximity to artillery and exploding rocket rounds, but MRIs and X-Rays haven’t found anything which has given my doctor any clues as to what may be causing my tinnitus. If anyone with somatic tinnitus has found relief for their ailment, please let me know what was done to ease your suffering. Thanks!

  35. Roby jessee

    I have had titinus for 50 years. I thought everyone did,until my wife told me she had nothing if the sort. I have lost 64% hearing in my right ear and 34% in my left ear. I have had eye cancer a malignant melanome and two detached retina’s in my left eye, causing side blindness. I was put in narcotic pain medicine during my operations and suprisingly noticed while taking the narcotic’s my titinus disappeared ! Anybody know why this is?

  36. Jack Bauer

    Roby Jesee, the narcotic used for your operation probably contained lidocaine which is a compound that temporarily cures tinnitus in … i think nearly 100% of the cases. the problem is that it’s temporary, doesn’t last more than maybe 1/2hour… and causes dysrhytmia which is less fun i guess

  37. Sero

    The cure for Tinnitus is in by Stem Cell surgery, where the entire damaged cochlea is replace with a functional one. The only problem still is Capitalism since with the “why cure people and loose them as costumers once they are healed if you can keep them buying your medicines and profit more from them”, surprised you cant buy a cure for cancer or aids in the pharmacy? you shouldn’t.

    Oh and what about the humanity? Dont expect money sick people to have sympathy for their own mothers, they sell their own mothers as whores the first option given.

  38. Djurov

    Well i was lucky enough to get tinnitus while i was fighting a missdiagnosis of cancer. They told me i was all good to go, and that i should be happy it wasent anything.. As months passed i started to develop some eyefloaters and the following month a woke up with a tinnitus sound, within these months i was to find out my systolic BP was at around 170… Eventually lost my job and myself, not mentally but due to sides from either psysical stress “fighting” and cancer wich left me weakend.

    after 8months of fighting for my life and going to doctors wich they all ment was “Mental problems” i kicked the door and request CT- MR and blood tests… The retards at that did and it showed it was testicular cancer, and that the C has spread to a single lymphnod! <– All this because of a retarded doctor that dident read the picture good enough, a picture that showed TC 10months ago! now ive been through chemo and 2surgeries

    – Within the months im talking about i somehow develop tinnitus on the left ear! My hearing is all normal and i do believe I actually cought tinnitus after a series a colds within the same month. But im not sure

    + My eyefloaters and tinnitus have decrease since ive gone vegetarian and all organic! I started to juice and suddenly found i had gotten my life back, i was actually able to see and hear somewhat normally again.

    My tinnitus goes up when im very angry, and in some what stress. I can change the volume or frequence of it by turning my head an twisting it, clamping my jaw and moving it.

    as SERO has stated, They all trying to earn money on ya´ll! Some goes for the chemo i went through, eventually i survived something i shoudent and i did that by finding the main couse of my cancer and stopping feeding it. normally people have tumormarkers at 30.000 after a month, but mine were 300 at 8months.. they´ve seen nothing like it.. but let me tell you the darkside:

    Cancer is human made, its not a "disease" its a way that our body compensates for the poision that it is consuming. Either by default or by yourself, you see.. Alot of the food that the government actually allows to be sold contains cancerous toxins that provoke your cells, eventually depending on what you eat ect. will cause different kinds of cancers! Often within that area the cell doesent go into apoptosis "death" wich then makes it replecate dead cancours cells… I do belive that cancer is a way of defence, giving us time to change and thereby heal… The body is capable of almost everything if treated right and fed correct, its a magic machine… but the planet has become a dirty place, filled with crap that does make us sick.. but the good earth has the true medicine, eat it and feed yourself for healing

    So yeah i did survive something that 99% of people cant, and i did most of it on my own! Im feeling more powerfull and balanced today as an organic eater and almost vegetarian! * I was an athlete before this.

    hope it helps someone.

  39. Lainee

    this is the first site I’ve found which talks about somatic tinnitus and not just the typical type which does not appear to be changed with movement or touch. I experience extra tinnitus bursts also even when something bumps a limb and travel nowhere, because ever bump from uneven road surfaces also causes momentary extra tinnitus squeals and subsequent increase in the general tinnitus level with a bumpy ride. Furthermore, my bad tinnitus times cause the noise to fill my whole head, not just perceived in the ears– this is particularly mind-destroying as it’s quite loud and penetrating. I believe this is called ‘central tinnitus’. It’s not too difficult to ignore the more common low-level- frequency tinnitus with time, but the hi frequency whine filling your whole head at times is hideous. A lightning blast to the rural dwelling I was in started the most hideous tinnitus and the movement syndrome. Previously I’d had Tinnitus for 16 years which didn’t change with movement and had become generally not often bothersome with time. I’ve now had tinnitus non-stop for 40 years following a stapes operation and several head injury incisdents and the lightning blast made everything worse. I’ll be watching this site and Susan’s work with interest and gratitude for her efforts for us.

  40. Lora

    I thought everyone heard ‘their brain’! About 5 years ago in a casual conversation with friends and the topic came up of silence. I said, “but you can hear your brain”? They all said “No” when it was silent they heard nothing. Having lived 3/4’s of my life with the ‘noises’ for as long as I remember and never having had a clue that I had Tennitis. I had heard it discussed as a ringing and that is not what I have. Mine is more like putting a shell to your ear, whooshing sounds, someone described it as ‘ocean sounds’. It also sounds to me like electrical activity in my brain. I have some hearing loss with very low or very soft voices, if a person speaks in a normal tone I am okay, although I find myself asking more frequently for the person to repeat what they said. I have been told that a form of hearing aid can mask the noise. Has any one tried this remedy?

  41. Michael Margolis

    Once I became a member of ATA and found out there were others with similar conditions I felt a bit better. My Tinnitus started when I was 45. I believe it started when my allergies were quite severe. This doctor said I should take allergy shots. That’s when it started. Now I am 69, I wear a hearing aid in the right ear and I have loud Tinnitus in that ear and some in the left. It is encouraging to read about all the research going on. Too late for me but, plenty of hope for future sufferers.

  42. Rob Salton

    I am searching for help too, I was rear-ended in a motor vehicle accident 7 months ago, sound of water running through a pipe for 7 months is very disturbing. I have not learned to deal with it. lose sleep and going crazy…..

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