“Ringing in the ears” is such an inadequate way to describe the misery of tinnitus, particularly as it only covers one of many possible sounds someone with the condition might endure on a daily basis. Some people describe constant phone ringing, snakes hissing, ocean waves whooshing, crickets chirping, fire engine sirens, big cats roaring, a timer buzzing, dial tones droning, clicking, popping and throbbing thumps like a washing machine out of balance. Sure, none of these sounds is particularly horrible in short doses.
But those who suffer from tinnitus endure hours, days and weeks on end of these sounds, ad nauseum–and yes, it can be nauseating to the point of interrupting daily life, sleep patterns and overall health. For some, anxiety and depression can take hold.
This is why tinnitus sufferers around the world are paying close, hopeful attention to recent discoveries of four new inner-ear neurons coming out of Sweden’s Karolinska Institutet, recently published in Nature Communications.
A New Understanding of Type 1 Auditory Nerve Cells
To get a handle on what these four new neurons mean, it’s important to understand what science already knew about how the inner ear works. Nerve cells in the inner ear grab the sound waves funneling into the ear and convert them into electrical signals before sending them through nerve cells in the cochlea, and on to the brain.
Until now, scientists thought these nerve cells came in just two flavors: type 1 and type 2. Digging deeper, scientists discovered that type 1 neurons can actually be separated into 3 distinct types, with variations in their electrical conduction and sonic response functions.
Lead researcher on the team, Francois Lallemend explained that this new discovery shows that there are at least three different pathways for sound data to reach the central auditory system–not just one, as previously thought. He said that they also were able to figure out and track which genes play a role in controlling each of these different nerve cell types.
New Pathways to Tinnitus Treatment
The main takeaway of the study is that researchers working on hearing disorders like tinnitus and age-related hearing loss just got a new set of genetically-based tools they can use to develop new hearing treatments. It offers hope to improve the lives of millions of people trying to get through the day with an unwanted and grating soundtrack constantly playing in their heads. Lallemend says several new potential hearing therapies could arise out of this new understanding of how these different auditory nerve cells work.
Tinnitus Treatments Available Today
In the meantime, people struggling with tinnitus still have a host of therapies and lifestyle adaptations that can help reduce the disruption of constant noises in their lives. Regardless of whether your tinnitus sounds like constant old dial-up modem noise, rushing water or something equally as annoying, contact your hearing specialist for a diagnosis on what’s causing the problem.
Since there are several potential causes, each one of which may have a remedy, it will definitely improve your quality of life to get an accurate diagnosis so you can begin a tinnitus treatment or therapy regimen and make lifestyle adaptations to help you enjoy the sounds of life again. For example:
- Something as “simple” as impacted earwax can cause tinnitus symptoms. Your hearing specialist can provide safe earwax removal and ear cleaning procedures that will eliminate this problem.
- Sometimes medications for other conditions can aggravate tinnitus, so having your hearing specialist confer with your doctor to see if an alternative medication can be used to treat the issue instead.
- Some cardiovascular conditions can even cause tinnitus, so having those treated can minimize the problem as well.
Your hearing expert can also recommend tinnitus therapies and techniques including white noise machines, hearing aids or sound masking devices that counter the frequency at which your particular sonic irritant plays. Counseling and tinnitus retraining have also helped many people overcome the problem.
Until Treatment Catches up with Tinnitus Research…
Don’t just accept that you have to suffer the buzzing drones, sirens or dial tones of tinnitus without any help. Contact your hearing specialist and ask about what the new neuron discoveries mean and what new hearing treatments there are today that can help you get relief.