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Tens of millions of Americans "hear" ringing, buzzing or humming in their ears -- an annoying and sometimes disabling condition known as tinnitus. Now, University of Michigan Medical School researchers report new scientific findings that help explain what is going on inside these unquiet brains.
That area, called the dorsal cochlear nucleus, is the first station for signals arriving in the brain from the ear via the auditory nerve.
Shore, who leads a lab in U-M’s Kresge Hearing Research Institute, is a Professor of Otolaryngology and Molecular and Integrative Physiology at the U-M Medical School, and also Professor of Biomedical Engineering, which spans the Medical School and College of Engineering.
She explains that in tinnitus, some of the input to the brain from the ear’s cochlea is reduced, while signals from the somatosensory nerves of the face and neck, related to touch, are excessively amplified. The new findings illuminate the relationship between tinnitus, hearing loss and sensory input and help explain why many tinnitus sufferers can change the volume and pitch of their tinnitus’s sound by clenching their jaw, or moving their head and neck. But it’s not just the combination of loud noise and overactive somatosensory signals that are involved in tinnitus, the researchers report. Tinnitus especially affects baby boomers, who, as they reach an age at which hearing tends to diminish, increasingly experience tinnitus.
Loud noises and blast forces experienced by members of the military in war zones also can trigger the condition.
Researchers still don’t understand what protective factors might keep some people from developing tinnitus, while others exposed to the same conditions experience tinnitus. Shore is now working with other students and postdoctoral fellows to develop a device that uses the new knowledge about the importance of signal timing to alleviate tinnitus.
But, she notes, any treatment will likely have to be customized to each patient, and delivered on a regular basis. Funding: The research was supported by National Institutes of Health grants DC004825 and P30 DC05188. One of U-M’s top priorities is to help spur economic development through a rich variety of programs in entrepreneurship, tech transfer, venture creation, business engagement, research, and education. It’s important to develop an awareness that an adjustment period will be required and to take it slowly at first.
Most audiologists recommend that new hearing aid devices should be worn for about one hour at a time.
Even though most hearing devices have comfortably fitting earholds, for many people it takes several weeks to adjust and stop noticing the device inside or behind their ear. In some cases, your own voice may sound louder and even swallowing and chewing sounds may appear different and louder.

Choosing the right hearing aid that will fit your needs should be done only after you have consulted with a hearing care specialist. The options your audiologist will offer you include various price ranges and quality levels.
Once a hearing aid has been offered you, it is highly recommended to try it for several days before making the final decision regarding whether or not it is suitable for your needs, as an adjustment period is often necessary. For earhold style hearing aids, an impression of the ear canal will need to be taken before the new device can be ordered for you.
Once the use of a hearing aid has been decided upon, your audiologist will begin the fitting process. Your audiologist will also take into consideration your lifestyle and personal preferences when presenting you with the various available options. When your new hearing aid arrives, the audiologist will connect it to a computer in order to manage the personal programming suitable for you. Once you begin to use your new hearing device some sounds may appear to be too loud or very different.
If you are having difficulties hearing high pitches sounds, find it hard to conduct conversations when there is background noise, need to ask people to repeat what they have said, find other people’s speech to be slurred or hear a constant ringing sound, then there is a good chance that you are suffering from presbycusis. Your best course of action is to visit an audiology center and consult with a professional audiologist about hearing tests and the possibility of fitting you with hearing aids to improve your quality of life. Already, the U-M team has a patent pending and device in development based on the approach.
Though the work was done in animals, it provides a science-based, novel approach to treating tinnitus in humans. But it’s also a center where “multitasking” neurons integrate other sensory signals, such as touch, together with the hearing information. They hope to bring science-based approaches to the treatment of a condition for which there is no cure – and for which many unproven would-be therapies exist.
The condition most commonly occurs with hearing loss, but can also follow head and neck trauma, such as after an auto accident, or dental work.
This is similarly the case with humans -- not everyone with hearing damage ends up with tinnitus.
The device will combine sound and electrical stimulation of the face and neck in order to return to normal the neural activity in the auditory pathway.
Shore’s device project is funded by the Coulter Translational Research Partnership, which is supported by the Wallace H.

You are free to copy, distribute, adapt, transmit, or make commercial use of this work as long as you attribute the University of Michigan Health System as the original creator and include a link to this article. It is important to understand that hearing aids do not restore hearing, what they actually do is amplify sounds. If you have been suffering from a hearing impairment for a few years, the new hearing aid device will flood your ears with sounds and noises that you did not notice.
With your new hearing aid, suddenly the humming sound of a refrigerator may be unbearably loud.
If your new hearing aid causes you any pain, you should immediately visit your audiologist so that the problem may be determined and corrected. This process starts with a careful assessment of your specific needs, continues with the presentation of several hearing aid options and concludes with the programming of the hearing device and then re-programming it for adjustments.
Some experts will share the information with you and request that you be present so the process can be shared with you.
An adjustment period, in which the brain re-learns to filter background sounds and ignore other ones may be necessary. The negative association of hearing impairment as a sign of old age, makes it difficult for many people to admit they suffer from such a natural condition. Instead, even in a quiet room, they hear a constant ringing, buzzing, hissing, humming or other noise in their ears that isn’t real. An important finding in the new paper is that animals that did not get tinnitus showed fewer changes in their multisensory plasticity than those with evidence of tinnitus.
For getting used to the sound of your own voice, you can read aloud in a quiet environment.
Here’s some more information about what you can expect during that adjustment period and how you can improve it. For some, the adjustment period may take a few hours, others may take several weeks to get used to their new device. Simple tasks, such as speaking on the phone or having a normal conversation, become a source of frustration.

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