Tinnitus affects millions of persons across North America. The persistent ringing in the ears affects quality of life. In fact, recent research indicates that those afflicted with tinnitus process emotions differently in the brain that persons with normal hearing. Previous research studies indicate that tinnitus is associated with increased stress, anxiety, irritability and depression, but less understood is how tinnitus affects the brain’s ability to process emotion.

Against this backdrop, Fatima Husain, a researcher with the University of Illinois, decided to research how tinnitus affects the brain’s ability to process emotion. Using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) brain scans, researchers working with three groups of individuals determined persons with both tinnitus and normal hearing respond more quickly to emotion-inducing sounds than to neutral sounds, while persons with hearing loss had a similar response time to each category of sound. Over all, the tinnitus group’s reaction times were slower than the reaction times of those with normal hearing. Activity in the Amygdala activity, which is associated with emotional processing, was lower in the tinnitus and hearing-loss patients than in people with normal hearing. Tinnitus patients also showed more activity than normal-hearing people in other brain regions associated with emotion.

Husain explains these results, “We thought that because people with tinnitus constantly hear a bothersome, unpleasant stimulus, they would have an even higher amount of activity in the amygdala when hearing these sounds, but it was lesser. They have had to reduce this amygdala activity and reroute it to other parts of the brain because the amygdala cannot be active all the time due to this annoying sound.”

These new understandings can help clinicians better understand and, ultimately, treat their patients. Tinnitus is a quality of life issue. Audiologists welcome all new insights that provide further pathways towards improving the day-to-day life of their patients.

Source: Science Daily

Duncan Audiologist
Gabriola Island Audiologist
Kelowna Audiologist