Some forms of tinnitus are associated with spontaneous nerve activity in the brain. A team from the University of Western Australia has shown that this activity is, for a time, dependent on nerve signals generated in the inner ear. They therefore believe it might be possible to treat tinnitus by reducing these signals from the ear - at least for a limited period.
The researchers, working on animals, found that this increased activity could be reduced back down to normal levels by reducing nerve signals coming from the inner ear. They achieved this in three ways: by removing a part of the inner ear called the cochlea, by cooling it down and - crucially - by using drugs to block generation of the nervous impulses.
Becomes independent of input
However, their work also suggested that after about six weeks, the increased nerve activity generated in the brain becomes independent of input from the ears. This suggests that if tinnitus can be treated by dampening down nerve signals from the ear, it must be done swiftly before the condition becomes irreversibly established.
The researchers said further work was needed to find ways to exploit this potential window of opportunity.
Lead researcher Professor Don Robertson said: "This finding indicates there may be an early phase of tinnitus development which could be arrested. Although a lot more research needs to be done at this stage, it is a very exciting prospect."
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