Hi! Bane here with some paw-retty interesting in-fur-mation about tinnitus, that constant ringing, pulsing, or buzzing in the ears that affects over 45 million humans in the U.S., per the American Tinnitus Association*.
A study** in the journal NeuroImage: Clinical says that chronic tinnitus keeps your brain from resting, which sounds pretty ruff. After all, everybody needs a paws here and there — even from chasing squirrels and burying bones.
Here’s some bark-ground:
Condition That Beagles the Mind
Tinnitus has proven particularly challenging to study. It can’t be measured like blood pressure or eyesight, and results differ across studies because of the variability of patients’ experiences — the type of sound, which ears are affected, whether it’s debilitating, the duration, even the patient’s age.
Researchers at the University of Illinois used functional MRI to search for patterns in the brain function of those with chronic tinnitus, regardless of the patient variables involved. And like bloodhounds, they found something: a difference in a part of the brain called the “precuneus.”
A Howling Discovery
The precuneus is connected to many different networks in the brain. Two of them are the default mode network (DMN) and the dorsal attention network (DAN). The DMN is active when the brain’s at rest. The DAN is active when you put your attention on something. When one is active, the other isn’t.
The functional MRI showed that in those with chronic tinnitus, the precuneus had a stronger connection to the DAN and a weaker connection to the DMN — the more severe the tinnitus, the greater the difference between the two connections.
An increased connection between the precuneus and the DAN means the brain is kept at attention unnecessarily. This goes a long way toward validating people’s tinnitus — which others don’t always believe exists — and explaining what many who experience it have long claimed: Tinnitus robs them of energy and creates concentration problems.
For the first time, researchers have something concrete and reliable as an indicator of tinnitus. But the result held true across all variables save two: those with mild tinnitus and those who had experienced tinnitus for less than a year.
Something happens to those with recent-onset tinnitus to kick-start changes in the precuneus, but when does the change happen and why? Answering these questions may possibly resolve an even bigger one: Does preventing or lessening these changes prevent moderate to severe tinnitus?
For now, this indicator may help forge new paths for research and new ways to design studies of this elusive, at-times debilitating condition.
Did you know? Scientists are doggedly working on beating tinnitus, but effective ways to manage the paw-blem are available right now. Call my favorite audiologists at Eastpoint Audiology — Dr. Melanie Driscoll and Dr. Kristin Lenz — for help today!
Love and Off-Leash Parks,
- *American Tinnitus Association. Demographics. https://www.ata.org/understanding-facts/demographics. Accessed Jan. 14, 2019.
- **Schmidt SA, Carpenter-Thompson J, Husain FT. Connectivity of Precuneus to the Default Mode and Dorsal Attention Networks: A Possible Invariant Marker of Long-Term Tinnitus. NeuroImage Clinical. 2017;16:196–204.