Brain training for tinnitus reverses ringing in ears


THERE may be hope for people with tinnitus. Rats with the condition showed reduced symptoms after a new treatment. People with tinnitus hear noise, such as ringing, in the absence of a corresponding external sound. The condition can cause loss of balance, depression and insomnia. Tinnitus can occur for many reasons, including exposure to long periods of loud noise, normal ageing and infection. It is thought to be caused by a reorganisation of the brain’s auditory cortex, so too many neurons respond to particular sound frequencies. Navzer Engineer of the University of Texas at Dallas and his colleagues reasoned that reorganising these auditory areas might have an effect on tinnitus. The team played tones in a range of frequencies, except those that caused tinnitus, to seven rats with the condition while stimulating their vagus nerve, a cranial nerve known to affect brain plasticity. They repeated the process 300 times a day. After 18 days of this, the rats showed a significant reduction in tinnitus-related behaviour, which lasted three weeks. No change was seen in those given a sham treatment (Nature, DOI: 10.1038/nature09656). Engineer is now working on a device for use in humans. More on these topics:
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