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Hearing management

Updated 29 November 2017

Tinnitus: why the ringing in your ears may be hard to treat

Tinnitus, or ringing in the ears is associated with a wide range of brain activity which is why the condition can be difficult to treat.

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Tinnitus is associated with surprisingly wide-ranging brain activity, researchers report, and this may be why the hearing disorder is hard to treat.

About one in five people have tinnitus, which is the sensation of a steady ringing or buzzing in the ears.

The study included a 50-year-old man who suffered tinnitus in both ears, in association with hearing loss. Researchers monitored his brain activity when his tinnitus was stronger and weaker.

The results revealed that tinnitus causes markedly different brain activity than normal external sounds picked up by the ears, according to the study published April 23 in the journal Current Biology.

"Perhaps the most remarkable finding was that activity directly linked to tinnitus was very extensive, and spanned a large proportion of the part of the brain we measured from," study co-author Will Sedley, of Newcastle University in the United Kingdom, said in a journal news release.

"In contrast, the brain responses to a sound we played that mimicked [the man's] tinnitus were localised to just a tiny area," he added.

Activity associated with tinnitus was seen in nearly all of the auditory cortex, along with other parts of the brain, the investigators found.

Watch: What is tinnitus and is it caused by exposure to loud noises?

The findings help explain why it's so difficult to treat tinnitus, and may lead to new therapies, the researchers added.

"We now know that tinnitus is represented very differently in the brain to normal sounds, even ones that sound the same, and therefore these cannot necessarily be used as the basis for understanding tinnitus or targeting treatment," Sedley said.

According to study co-author Phillip Gander, from the University of Iowa, "The sheer amount of the brain across which the tinnitus network is present suggests that tinnitus may not simply 'fill in' the 'gap' left by hearing damage, but also actively infiltrates beyond this into wider brain systems."

Read more:

10 tinnitus facts

Could your cellphone give you tinnitus?

A visual guide to tinnitus

 

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Dr Kara Hoffman graduated from UCT in 2004, thereafter she completed her year of community service in Durban. In 2010 she completed her Masters Degree in Paediatric Aural Rehabilitation from UKZN. In 2016, she became a Doctor of Audiology through the University of Arizona (ATSU). Dr Hoffman and her partner Lauren Thompson opened a fully diagnostic audiology practice called Thompson & Hoffman Audiology Inc. In 2011 with world-class technology and equipment to be able to offer the broad public all hearing-related services including hearing testing for adults and babies, vestibular (balance) assessments and rehabilitation, industrial audiology, hearing devices, central auditory processing assessments for school-aged children, school screening, neonatal hearing screening programmes at Alberlito and Parklands Hospital, cochlear implants and other implantable devices, medicolegal assessments and advanced electroacoustic assessments of hearing. Thompson and Hoffman Audiology Inc. are based at Alberlito Hospital in Ballito, St Augustines Hospital in Durban and at 345 Essenwood Road, Musgrave. The practices are all wheelchair friendly. There are three audiologists that practice from Thompson & Hoffman – including Dr Kara Hoffman, Lauren Thompson & Minette Lister. The practice boasts professional, highly qualified, and extensive diagnostic services where all your hearing healthcare needs can be met. The additional licensing in vestibular assessment and rehabilitation, paediatric rehabilitation and cochlear implantation places this practice in one of the top specialist audiological positions in South Africa, with a wealth of experience in all clinical areas of audiology and is a very well respected and sought-after practice.

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