Researchers develop device to help those suffering from tinnitus

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A new device may hold the key to silencing the persistent ringing sufferers of tinnitus often hear.

Tinnitus is characterized as a persistent ringing, or similar noise, that can heard in the ears. It affects around 25 million Americans, according to U.S. government information from the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders.

It isn't a disease, but a symptom of something wrong in the auditory system. This can be anything from ear wax in the canal, hearing loss to more serious conditions such as diseases of the heart and blood vessels.

The device, designed by University of Michigan researchers, works by emitting timed sounds and low-strength electrical pulses that direct damaged nerve cells back toward normal functionality.

According to a University of Michigan news release, researchers tested the device on animals and 20 human patients for four weeks. The human patients were divided into two groups, one with a real device and one that only produced sounds.

After four weeks the group with the real device reported an improved life quality with the sound usually generated by tinnitus having decreased.

Details of the device and research were published in the journal Science Translational Medicine.

1. Depiction of tinnitus patient
2. Depiction of tinnitus
3. Depiction of how the device works
4. Depiction of neurons in brain returning to normal activity

VOICEOVER (in English):

"Tinnitus is characterized as a persistent ringing, or similar noise, that can heard in the ears."

"Lead researcher Susan Shore says that the dorsal cochlear nucleus, a region of the brainstem, is the root of tinnitus."

"Shore says that when neurons in these region become hyperactive and interact with each other, this generates the perceived noise."

"The experimental University of Michigan device tackles tinnitus via two senses."

"First it plays noise, and alternates that by firing a mild electrical pulse to the cheek or neck."

"This dual approach triggers a process known as stimulus-timing dependent plasticity aimed at resetting the hyperactive neurons and how the brain processes the senses."
SOURCES: University of Michigan, National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders, CBS Detroit