Tinnitus, the perceived ringing and buzzing in one’s ears, may not be fully understood, but what is known is that it can severely disrupt a person’s life. Treatment for the condition has been unreliable, but now scientists are reporting a new way to turn down the ringing by turning up music, according to a new study.
Scientists altered participants’ favourite music to remove notes which matched the frequency of the ringing in their ears. After a year of listening to the modified music, individuals reported a drop in the loudness of their tinnitus [BBC News]. Participants who listened to music in which notes of a different frequency were removed reported no such improvement. The treatment could be a cheap way to help the three percent of the population that suffers from tinnitus, say the researchers, who published their findings in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
The idea is to remove the spectrum of noise linked to tinnitus from the music a person listens to so that the area of the brain associated with that frequency will not be as active. The researchers propose that the therapy might work by re-wiring parts of the auditory cortex that have become over-active to instead tune into surrounding—but different—tones. Another possibility is that with deprivation, these specially tuned auditory neurons would undergo “long-term depression,” causing them to become less active overall [Scientific American]. How ironic that one of the causes of ringing ears may also be the solution.