Science Friday: A Temporary Relief For Tinnitus Sufferers
For more than 50 million Americans, there’s no such thing as peace and quiet, because every moment of silence is accompanied by a persistent ringing in the ears. Tinnitus, which has no cure, is a problem that affects people of all ages. But now there’s a treatment for the neurological condition that embraces a new way of thinking about hearing loss.
In the sensory system, sound waves enter the ear and mechanically stimulate tiny hairs on the cochlea, which translate into electrical impulses that get carried along nerve fibers into the brain. “People always used to think that the hair cells were the only vulnerable elements in the ear and that nerve fibers never died until after the hair cells were gone,” says Charles Liberman, director of the Eaton-Peabody Laboratories at Massachusetts Eye and Ear. “The new view is actually the nerve fibers are more vulnerable than the hair cells. It seems to be true in noise damage and it may be true in aging as well.”
Dr. Susan Shore, a professor of Otolaryngology at the Kresge Hearing Research Institute, and her team at the University of Michigan discovered that in addition to hair cell damage, these nerve fibers played a role in the neurological condition of tinnitus as well. She joins Ira to discuss her new treatment for restoring balance to the auditory system.