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Tinnitus Cure

New Research Brings Hope for a Tinnitus Cure.

At the time of writing this article, there is still no effective cure for tinnitus. The claims of those who offer miracle herbal treatments that promise to eliminate the ringing in your ears overnight have not been substantiated by valid clinical trials. Both prescription medications and surgical interventions have also proved to be ineffective, so far. Consequently, the primary focus of those healthcare professionals tasked with attempting to treat this irritating phenomenon, which, incidentally, should be thought of as a symptom rather than a disease process per se, continues to address ways in which to assist sufferers to cope more effectively with the intrusive phantom sounds.

In this area, hearing specialists and those engaged in the development of assisted hearing devices have made great strides. Nevertheless, it must be stressed that their efforts do not amount to a tinnitus cure, but are rather a number of practical options that can allow many sufferers to manage their symptoms sufficiently well to avoid their frequently debilitating consequences.

Despite a well-established link between the various ringing, buzzing, whistling, and other noises experienced by sufferers and hearing loss, ongoing research is making it increasingly clear that the origins of these subjective sounds are far more varied and complex than previously believed. It is now believed that more than 200 conditions can be linked to these purely subjective sounds. In addition to age-related and noise-induced hearing loss, head and neck trauma, temporomandibular joint disorder, traumatic brain injury, ototoxic drugs, fibromyalgia, and even certain psychiatric disorders are just a few of the other linked conditions. Rather like pain, these sounds can have their origins in locations quite distant from where they manifest. Given these circumstances, it is really not too difficult to understand why a definitive tinnitus cure has continued to evade researchers for so long.

The current options for management of this frequently debilitating manifestation are of two main types. The aim of the first is to help patients to develop a sort of mind-over-matter attitude that makes it easier to ignore the intrusive nature of these internal noises. This is achieved by personal counselling and will often take the form of cognitive behaviour therapy. The second option involves the use of audio technology as a means with which to diminish the intrusive effect of subjective noise. A white noise generator is used to mask them with sounds that are calming and more natural in nature, and are therefore far less intrusive. Best used together with counselling, the combination is still not a tinnitus cure, although many patients find that it offers sufficient relief for them to function more effectively.

For the moment, these coping mechanisms remain the best option that the hearing specialists can provide. However, there is an undercurrent of compelling evidence to suggest that this is a limitation that could be overcome in the not too distant future. Naturally, all over the world, researchers in this field have been pursuing many different options, but of these, two appear to hold promise. Both are based on the now widely-held belief that any effective tinnitus cure will need to be aimed at correcting anomalous activity within the brain.

The first of these remedies is under investigation at the University of Antwerp. Electric pulses from an implanted electrode in the neck stimulate the vagus nerve, while the patient listens to specific tones synched to the charges. So far, the results show about a 50% reduction in the level of phantom noise in around half of the subjects treated. The team is confident that this can be improved upon and that a tinnitus cure could become a reality within a year or two.

A second team, from the University of Michigan and McMaster University in Ontario, has been researching a similar technique in which, instead of an embedded electrode, the charges are delivered to touch-sensitive nerves externally via a pad applied to the neck. Again, the pulses are paired with sound and, according to a paper published earlier this year, this non-invasive technique would appear to be producing results that are consistent with those obtained by the Belgian team and its direct vagal stimulation approach. In parallel, among the other potential therapies currently being studied are invasive and non-invasive techniques of electromagnetic brain stimulation and these are also showing promise.

While a tinnitus cure now seems possible, more research is needed. Meanwhile, established coping techniques and sound enrichment technology continue to offer a measure of relief for sufferers worldwide.