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Could Overactive Nerves Cause Tinnitus?

Celebrating 35 years of Caring for Your Hearing

Meredy Hase tests a child, 1987  Kupperman and Hase work to license audiologists in Wisconsin, 1989

 

Hearing Loss UNDER Age 65

We used to think of hearing loss as something that only happened to our grandparents' generation. But you'd be surprised at how many people your age, and even younger, have a hearing problem.
According to a study recently published by the Better Hearing Institute, two-thirds of Americans with hearing loss are under the age of 65 and still in the work force. That includes one of every six "Baby Boomers" (ages 41 to 59) and one of every 14 "Generation X'ers" (age 29-40).

According to Meredy Hase, Doctor of Audiology, "Hearing loss is by no means an 'old person's disease' any longer. Each day, we see people of all ages come into our offices concerned they may have a hearing problem.

"There's even solid evidence to support the fact that for working Americans, hearing loss impacts their ability to make a living, up to $12,000 in lost income per year." (See related article)
Dr. Hase urges anyone who thinks they, or a loved one, may have a hearing loss to contact The Doctors of Audiology at Hearing Services without delay.

Auditory Deprivation

Auditory Deprivation refers to the fact that even though we "hear" with our ears, it's our brain that's the true organ of hearing.

When hearing loss is left untreated, the brain's ability to distinguish various sounds becomes less and less. Try to think of Auditory Deprivation as similar, in a sense, to muscles that atrophy when not used over a long period of time.

The reason Auditory Deprivation is important is that we have ample evidence proving how long people will wait before seeking help for a suspected hearing loss. Up to ten years, by some estimates.

In other words, the longer you wait to get help for your hearing loss, the less even the most advanced hearing instruments will be able to help you hear better. That's one more reason physicians recommend annual hearing checks as part of an overall health assessment.
The Doctors of Audiology at Hearing Services can perform hearing screenings that take only a few minutes. Concerned individuals are urged to contact them at the first signs of hearing loss, such as an inability to understand conversations in a crowded room or having to turn up the TV volume in order to hear.

Hearing & Income Loss

After years of research, there is new evidence that links hearing loss and loss of income. A study released by the Better Hearing Institute in Alexandria, VA, proves that untreated hearing loss may impact household income by as much as $12,000 per year.

The study also shows that hearing loss, which affects more than 28 million Americans, two thirds of whom are still in the work force, results in an annual loss of more than $100 billion in wages and worker productivity. The good news is people who find help for their hearing loss can regain up to 50% of that lost income.

According to Meredy Hase, Doctor of Audiology, "One of the misconceptions about hearing loss is that it's 'an old person's ailment'. But we know that hearing loss crosses all income lines and impacts people of all ages".

The new "Open Ear" Digital hearing instruments are especially designed to help Baby Boomers feel more comfortable about wearing hearing instruments.

Anyone interested in receiving a FREE Demonstration of Open Fit hearing technology are urged to contact the Doctors of Audiology at Hearing Services.

Hearing Loss & the Family

For years, both researchers and hearing healthcare professionals have known much about the causes of hearing loss and how it affects the person who suffers from it.

But not until recently has attention been paid as to the devastating effects hearing loss has on family members and friends as well. This past year alone, several organizations have weighed in with their findings on this often overlooked medical problem that by current estimates, affects the lives and families of more than 30 million Americans.

For example, the National Council on Aging (NCOA), a government agency whose task it is to research the lives of older Americans, released a study that confirms how often a person with hearing loss begins to feel isolated, eventually withdrawing from normal everyday activities and even from family and friends.

None of this is news, however, to Dr. Meredy Hase,  who says, "I realized just how much hearing loss also affected family members when we''d spend so much time counseling them when we''d fit their loved one with hearing instruments".

The benefits of better hearing were the subject of an NBC report that aired on an installment of the NBC Nightly News. In that report, the testimonials of several patients and their families provided evidence of how lives can be changed for the good, once the decision has been made to seek help for a hearing problem.

Those interviewed talked about how experiences such as watching TV or enjoying conversations with loved ones - things that were not possible with hearing loss - were once again part of the everyday enjoyment of life. Social activities like dining at restaurants of going to the movies were also among the range of family life experienced through better hearing.

Thanks to recent advances in technology more help is available than ever before for those whose lives are affected by hearing loss. If left untreated, hearing loss will almost always become worse over time, another reason Dr. Hase urges people to contact the Doctors of Audiology at Hearing Services if a hearing loss is thought to exist.

More Hearing Healthcare News
 

Do your ears ring after a loud concert? Nerves that sense touch in your face and neck may be behind the racket in your brain, University of Michigan researchers say.

Touch-sensing nerve cells step up their activity in the brain after hearing cells are damaged, a study by U-M Kresge Hearing Research Institute scientists shows. Hyperactivity of these touch-sensing neurons likely plays an important role in tinnitus, often called "ringing in the ears."

The research findings were made in animals, but they suggest that available treatments such as acupuncture, if used to target nerves in the head and neck, may provide relief for some people plagued by tinnitus, says Susan E. Shore, Ph.D., lead author of the study and research professor in the Department of Otolaryngology and the Kresge Hearing Research Institute at the U-M Medical School.

People with tinnitus sense ringing or other sounds in their ears or head when there is no outside source. Whether it's mild and intermittent or chronic and severe, tinnitus affects about one in 10 people. An estimated 13 million people in Western Europe and the United States seek medical advice for it. It is a growing problem for war veterans. Since 2000, the number of veterans receiving service-connected disability for tinnitus has increased by at least 18 percent each year, according to the American Tinnitus Association.

Increasing numbers of baby boomers are also finding that when they can't hear as well as they used to, tinnitus seems to move in. The condition commonly occurs with hearing loss, but also after head or neck trauma such as whiplash or dental work.

Tinnitus varies in individuals from a faint, high-pitched tone to whooshing ocean waves to annoying cricket-like chirping or screeching brakes. For some, it is constant and debilitating.

Some people, oddly enough, find that if they clench the jaw or press on the face or neck, they can temporarily stop tinnitus, or in some cases bring it on. To understand tinnitus and its strange link to touch sensations, Shore and her research team have conducted a series of studies in guinea pigs, measuring nerve activity in a part of the brain called the dorsal cochlear nucleus that processes auditory and other signals.

In normal hearing, the dorsal cochlear nucleus is the first stop in the brain for sound signals arriving from the ear via the auditory nerve. It's also a hub where "multitasking" neurons process sensory signals from other parts of the brain.

"In this study, we showed that when there is a hearing loss, other parts of the brain that normally convey signals to the cochlear nucleus have an enhanced effect," says Shore, who is also an associate professor in the Department of Molecular and Integrative Physiology at the U-M Medical School.

"When you take one source of excitation away, another source comes in to make up for it. The somatosensory system is coming in, but may overcompensate and help cause tinnitis," she says.

The somatosensory system is a nerve network in the body that provides information to the brain about touch, vibration, skin temperature and pain. The part of the system that provides sensations from the face and head, called the trigeminal system, brings signals to the cochlear nucleus that help us hear and speak.

But when people experience hearing loss or some other event, such as having a cavity filled or a tooth implanted, these neurons from the face and head can respond like overly helpful relatives in a family crisis. The resulting neuron firings in the cochlear nucleus, like too many phone calls, create the din of tinnitus, a "phantom sound" produced in the brain.

In the study, Shore and the paper's second author Seth Koehler, a U-M Ph.D. student in the U-M departments of Otolaryngology and Biomedical Engineering measured the patterns of activity of neurons in the brains of normal and deafened guinea pigs. They used a 16-electrode array to measure signals from the trigeminal nerve and multisensory neurons in the dorsal cochlear nucleus. When they compared results in the two groups, they found clear differences in trigeminal nerve activity.

"The study shows that in deafened animals, the somatosensory response is much stronger than in animals with normal hearing," Shore says.

Shore's research team knew from earlier research that some neurons in the cochlear nucleus become hyperactive after hearing damage, and this hyperactivity has been linked to tinnitus in animals.

"This study shows that it is only those neurons that receive somatosensory input that become hyperactive," she says, which should make the search for treatments for tinnitus in some people more straightforward.

Many people with temporomandibular joint syndrome (TMJ), a condition that causes frequent pain in the jaw, experience tinnitus. Shore's research could lead to a better understanding of this link. In people with TMJ, the somatosensory system is disrupted and inflamed. Shore says that it's possible that in this situation, as in hearing loss, somatosensory neurons stir excessive neuron activity in the cochlear nucleus