The perceived buzzing, humming or ringing in the ears or head – that can be as quiet as a whisper or as loud as a jackhammer – affects about 50 million people and more than 12 percent of American troops returning home who have been exposed to acoustic trauma from machinery and explosive devices.
Tinnitus is now the No. 1 disability of women and men in uniform, a growing problem that costs the U.S. roughly $1.7 billion a year to treat.
Even with these staggering numbers, there is still no known cure for tinnitus.
Finding a solution to lessen symptoms can be just as challenging, but physicians now have a growing range of options to offer patients to help manage symptoms – with possible new treatments on the horizon.
“About 2 to 4 percent are debilitated by their tinnitus so it rules their life, and some have said that they lost their job, their spouse,” says Michael D. Seidman, M.D., director of the Division of Otologic/Neurotologic Surgery in the Department of Otolaryngology-Head & Neck Surgery at Henry Ford Hospital.
“That’s why we continue to work to find new treatment options for patients with tinnitus, to provide them with relief from their tinnitus and a better quality of life.”
Dr. Seidman will present a culmination of years of research and potential future treatment options for tinnitus May 16 at the Combined OTO Spring Meetings in Las Vegas.
While the exact physiological cause of tinnitus is not known, there are several conditions that have been shown to trigger or worsen tinnitus: Exposure to loud noises, hearing loss, tumors of the hearing/balance nerve (rare), wax build-up in the ear, ear or sinus infections, head and neck trauma, and certain disorders, such as hypo- or hyperthyroidism, Lyme disease, fibromyalgia and thoracic outlet syndrome.
At the meeting, Dr. Seidman will highlight two soon-to-be-tested options for tinnitus relief:
• Vagal nerve stimulation, in which a small device is surgically implanted under the skin near the collarbone and uses electrical impulses to send signals along the vagus nerve to the brainstem. The Henry Ford trial, led by Dr. Seidman, is one of four sites in the world approved for this intervention.
• AM-101, a gel injection that may lessen the excessive signaling to the brain that occurs with tinnitus. Henry Ford is one of 70 sites in the world involved in the study. Dr. Seidman will lead the Henry Ford study.
Clinical trials for each will work to determine their effectiveness for the management of tinnitus.
As part of his discussion at COSM, Dr. Seidman also will explain how tinnitus-related traumatic brain injury occurs, based on research from his colleague at Wayne State University, Jinsheng Zhang, Ph.D.
Dr. Zhang has developed a model of blast-induced tinnitus and hearing loss using a shock tube that generates a 194 decibel shock wave similar to many of the explosive devices being deployed against troops.
In addition, Dr. Seidman will discuss a study co-authored by Susan Bowyer, Ph.D., senior bioscientific researcher at Henry Ford Hospital, which found that an imaging technique called magnetoencephalography (MEG) can determine the site of perception of tinnitus in the brain. MEG has the potential to allow physicians to target the area with electrical or chemical therapies to lessen symptoms.
In all, Dr. Seidman’s team’s work on noise-induced hearing loss and tinnitus has led to more than 50 peer-reviewed publications and several patents.
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