It is estimated that 32% of the U.S. population suffers from tinnitus— the perception of a sound that has no external source. Most patients report they hear a ringing, humming, buzzing, or cricket-like sound that can be constant, intermittent, heard in one ear, both ears, or in the head. Needless to say, it’s uncomfortable, widespread, and difficult to care for because tinnitus is a symptom, not a disease. This means most attempts to address the issue do not cure the actual disease, but rather, alleviates the symptom. However, there may be hope on the horizon.
According to a new study published in November 2020, a technology called functional near-infrared spectroscopy (fNIRS) can be used to objectively measure tinnitus, or ringing in the ears. This is a huge achievement, as to this day there has been no clinically used, objective way to determine the presence or severity of the condition.
How it works
Researchers turned to fNIRS, a non-invasive and non-radioactive imaging method which measures changes in blood oxygen levels within brain tissue.
– By using fNIRS, the study team was able to track different areas of the brain’s cortex known to be linked to the condition.
– Researchers collected data from 25 patients with chronic tinnitus, and 21 people were used as controls (who do not have tinnitus) that matched the 25 patients in terms of age and level of hearing loss.
– Patients were asked to rate the severity of their tinnitus using the Tinnitus Handicap Inventory.
The fNIRS revealed some very interesting findings! Results showed a statistically significant difference in the connectivity between the areas of the brain in people with and without tinnitus. In addition, it was found that the brain’s response to both visual and auditory stimuli was lower among those with tinnitus. Researchers applied machine learning to the data they collected, and the program they used was able to differentiate between patients with mild tinnitus from those with moderate to severe tinnitus with an 87.32% level of accuracy. For a condition that until recently wasn’t even accepted by all audiologists, this is a huge accomplishment!
What this means
We’re so thrilled about these findings, and cannot wait until this technology becomes widespread. But we have to emphasize that that day has yet to come. For now, these are the early stages, and this technology is not available at doctor’s offices. This is but the first step of many, and it is a crucial one! Once this technology is further tested, improved, and approved, we can then hope to see them distributed to hearing care centers, like Longmont Hearing and Tinnitus Center.
Until then, all of us at Longmont Hearing and Tinnitus Center are dedicated to giving you the treatment you need. We are skilled at the screening and treatment of tinnitus, and are here to help. If you or a loved one is suffering from tinnitus, don’t wait, let us help! Make an appointment with us, and let’s see what we can do to provide you with relief.