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New Treatment for Ringing in the Ears

Magnetic Stimulation Temporarily Reduces Tinnitus

WebMD Health News

Dec. 23, 2002 -- Ringing or buzzing in the ears may actually be coming from the brain. And if findings of a small study hold true, people living with this potentially disabling condition may have a new place to turn for help.

Many of us experience ringing in the ears -- called tinnitus -- from time to time. But for more than 40 million Americans the problem doesn't go away -- particularly in the elderly and those with partial hearing loss. The problem is even severe enough to cause disability in 1 million people, according to the American Tinnitus Association.

Recently, researchers have brought forward a new idea behind the origin of tinnitus, which is unexplained in most people. It's thought that abnormal brain activity is creating the illusion of sound.

Researcher Christian Gerloff, MD, and colleagues used a technique called focused magnetic stimulation to see if interfering with this abnormal brain activity could get rid of the ringing in 14 people who had chronic, severe tinnitus. This procedure involves applying a strong magnetic field to the outside of the skull over various regions of the brain.

The study, by researchers at the University of Tuebingen in Germany, appears in the online edition of the Annals of Neurology and will be published in the May 2003 issue of the journal.

When they stimulated the left side of the brain in an area around the temple, the researchers were able to temporarily reduce the ringing in 8 of 14 patients. This region of the brain -- called the left temporoparietal cortex -- contains several areas involved in hearing. Stimulating other areas of the brain did not reduce the ringing.

Although the results are very promising, the procedure needs to be tested in more patients, the researchers say. In addition, one patient had an increase in tinnitus -- indicating that the condition is much more complex and the source of the ringing may not always be the same in every patient.

Researchers also hope to figure out if they can permanently reduce the ringing and possibly even cure tinnitus.

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