Is There A Tinnitus Cure?
The first time someone hears the annoying sound of tinnitus, the first thing that come to their mind is, “is there a cure for tinnitus?” Well, that’s a complicated question to answer, because until recently, we didn’t know what caused tinnitus so it was hard to find a tinnitus cure. So a tinnitus cure will take a bit of time. But don’t worry, there are plenty of research projects that are ongoing and with beyondtinnitus.com, you’re in the right hands - eventually we will find a tinnitus cure.
Researchers have finally figured out that tinnitus is produced in the brain but is caused by a loss of cells in the inner ear. This loss of cells in the inner ear causes a hyperactivation (increased activity and excitement) of the cells in the brain that do the hearing function. This hyperactivity is interpreted by the rest of the brain as a sound perception. A tinnitus cure must address either the hearing loss or the brain cells that cause the tinnitus.
Figure Legend: Functional MRI of the brain in a patient suffering from tinnitus. This image shows that the patient with tinnitus has increased abnormal electrical activity in the hearing parts of the brain (temporal lobes) in the absence of any sound (arrows). This electrical activity produces tinnitus. Addressing these areas is what will be necessary for a tinnitus cure.
What are the different lines of attack for finding a tinnitus cure?
- Hair cell regeneration – Regenerate the inner ear cells
- Neuroplasticity - Quiet down those cells in the brain that cause tinnitus
Hair Cell Regeneration as a Way Toward a Tinnitus Cure
In the inner ear we have these cells with tiny hairs on top of them that sense the minute motions that sound creates. The picture to the right is a picture of a hair cell that is ~100,000 times larger than the actual cell. The tiny bundle of hairs on top is the sensor of sound vibration. We have ~10,000 of these cells in each ear and as we age, we lose some over time. These cells will also die as a result of lack of certain vitamins and supplements. These tiny hairs can also break as a result of loud sounds which will cause the cells to die.
What does this all have to do with a tinnitus cure? If we can regenerate these cells, the hearing should normalize and the tinnitus should go away. Well, humans are not able to regenerate these cells. Some animals, particularly birds and frogs, can regenerate these cells. So you can take a chicken to a concert and you will both come out with some hearing loss due to hair cell loss. But 3 weeks later, the chicken will have her hearing back and you are left with hearing loss and ringing in your ears!
Researchers are working on figuring out how to regenerate these cells in humans. Researchers from Japan and the U.S. have been able to regenerate these cells in mice and guinea pigs. They took these animals and deafened them and then used gene therapy to deliver genes to the inner ear. After a few weeks, they found that the animal had its hearing back. Other researchers are using stem cells to do the same thing. Now only if we can do that in humans, we can have a tinnitus cure.
As we discussed earlier, tinnitus is caused by abnormal function in some brain cells that do the function of hearing. If we can make these cells reset and quiet down, we can have a tinnitus cure. So, how can we do that? Well, people are working on it! In a study done in our institution (University of California, Irvine), we found that certain sounds can make the ringing go away in about 70% of individuals. These stimulating sounds that quiet the tinnitus are mathematically related to the same pitches of the tinnitus and the hearing loss. Why can’t we use this for everyone? It’s not so simple. The sounds that quiet the ringing can be pretty annoying on their own. Most patients cannot tolerate that tone for more than a few minutes. If these cells are quieted down for a long enough period of time, they learn to be quiet. This change in the function of brain over time is termed neuroplasticity, which can lead to a cure for tinnitus.
The technology developed by the physician founders of beyondtinnitus.com allows the tinnitus sufferer to mix the therapeutic sounds that reduce the tinnitus with music. These special sounds, that are mathematically calculated, work on the parts of the brain that reduce tinnitus. These special sounds are fused with music to eliminate the annoying tinnitus sounds. This is distinct from the technology used by Neuromonics. In Neuromonics therapy, the music is made louder in the pitches where the hearing loss is present. However, in the tinnitus management system of beyontinnitus.com, the therapy sounds are fused with the music to create a pleasant therapeutic sound. By having the ability to mix your own music, you have the flexibility to listen to music you enjoy, not those preselected by a company! Click here to learn more about the beyondtinnitus.com therapy and to get started.