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Ringing in ears keeps brain more at attention
September 5, 2017, 4:31 pm

Researchers at the University of Illinois in the US have found that tinnitus, a chronic ringing or buzzing in the year, is associated with changes in certain networks in the brain, and furthermore, those changes cause the brain to stay more in an active state and less at rest.

The new finding provides patients with validation of their experiences and hope for future treatment options.

Tinnitus has eluded medical treatment and scientific understanding as it cannot be measured by any available device, so the best that medicine can do is to manage tinnitus, not cure it.
One factor that has complicated tinnitus research is the variability in the patient population. There are a lot of variables — for example, duration, cause, severity, concurrent hearing loss, age, type of sound, which ear and more — which have led to inconsistent study results.

The new study, which used functional MRI to look for patterns across brain function and structure, found that tinnitus is literally in the head of the hearer; more specifically in a region of the brain called the precuneus.

The precuneus is connected to two inversely related networks in the brain — the dorsal attention network, which is active when something holds a person's attention; and the default mode network, which are ‘background’ functions of the brain when the person is at rest and not thinking of anything in particular. When the default mode network is on, the dorsal attention network is off, and vice versa.

Researchers at Illinois found that the precuneus in tinnitus patients seems to be playing a role in that relationship.They found that, in patients with chronic tinnitus, the precuneus is more connected to the dorsal attention network and less connected to the default mode network. Additionally, as severity of the tinnitus increased, so did the observed effects on the neural networks.

The new finding implies that tinnitus patients are not truly at rest, even when resting. This could explain why many tinnitus sufferers report being tired more often. Additionally, their attention may be engaged more with their tinnitus than necessary, and that may lessen their attention to other things. So, if you have bothersome tinnitus, this may be why you have concentration issues.


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