March 26, 2018

Millions of Americans suffer from tinnitus. Interestingly, some do not experience the symptoms of tinnitus as strongly as others. It doesn’t seem to bother them as much as it bothers everyone else.

The University of Illinois did a study that found a reason for this difference. It turns out some people process emotional sounds differently than other people. People with tinnitus were generally found to process emotional sounds differently from everyone else, but even among people who do have tinnitus, there were differences in emotional sound processing.

They found that different people can use different areas of the brain when they process emotions, and this can have an effect on hearing, and on their likelihood of developing tinnitus.

What is Tinnitus?

Tinnitus is actually not even a disease, but a symptom of other underlying health conditions. It is often the result of a trauma such as exposure to very loud noise or use of ototoxic medications like over-the-counter painkillers.

People who experience tinnitus report a ringing or buzzing sound in one or both ears, even when there is no other sound in the environment. The fact that there is a perception of sound when none is present indicates that the brain plays a major role in the existence and severity of tinnitus.

Once people have tinnitus, the brain begins to adapt to the perceived noise, and so different people may experience these symptoms differently based on how their brains process it.

Brain Activity with Tinnitus

When studying the brain, researchers used MRI scans to see changes in blood oxygen levels in the brain. They studied patients both with and without tinnitus to see the differences in brain activity. They exposed participants of the study to various sounds and measured the brain’s reaction to each sound.

The brains of people with tinnitus had measurable engagement in different areas of the brain than those without. The researchers then compared the brain activity of participants with tinnitus of varying degrees of severity.

Understanding Tinnitus

While all people who suffer from tinnitus hear a ringing in their ears, some have more trouble adjusting to this perceived sound than others. Each person experiences tinnitus differently, and while some are not bothered by these symptoms, some experience reduced quality of life as a result, reporting depression, anxiety, mood swings, irritability and difficulty sleeping.

This research is helping doctors understand the different responses of the brain to tinnitus and the varying severity. With this research doctors hope to soon have more advanced interventions and therapies to deal with tinnitus.

As tinnitus is often correlated with hearing loss, if you experience a ringing in your ears, always consult with your audiologist and schedule a screening to determine how to best treat these symptoms.

The first step to halting hearing loss and preventing further damage is to recognize your situation. Come in today for a hearing screening and formulate a strategy to train your brain to listen actively and effectively.

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