Good news! The annoying continuous high pitched ringing or whining sound some people hear even when they are all alone in a quiet room has a name. It’s Tinnitus. The bad news is that it’s all in their mind.
Although the word literally means ringing in the ears, the sounds that a person might experience are of a wider range – such as squeaking, ticking, beeping, whistling, buzzing and humming.
The causes of the condition are many with the most common being hearing loss due to being subjected to loud noises for prolonged periods of time or to damage to the hearing organ or even old age. Other triggering factors are neurological damage, ear infections, intracranial blood pressure, ototoxic medication or a simple nasal congestion.
The symptoms vary widely in intensity from slightly distracting to debilitating, interfering with normal daily activities like working or even sleeping.
The conditions affect around 10% of the world’s population and although it is a real problem to only about 1-2% of those people, it is important to deal with it. That is why a research team at the University of Iowa set out to map the brain area affected by tinnitus. Their discovery is quite interesting.
They wanted to monitor the brain activity during a tinnitus episode. In order to do that they employed a method used in the treatment of epileptic patients. A mesh with electrodes was placed on the test subject’s head and the brain activity was measured to find out its intensity and magnitude.
Then the subject was asked to describe the sounds experienced during the tinnitus bout and the scientists tried to mimic them with equipment and play it back.
They concluded that the area of the brain affected and activated by tinnitus was too large, spreading beyond the part responsible for decoding sounds, as opposed to the effect of the sound reproduced by them, which was indeed localized in a much smaller part of the cerebral cortex.
The researchers believe that the condition’s consequences have many implications. Therefore, both Tinnitus and its treatments cannot be isolated to only the auditory system.
Image Source: Ent-surgery
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