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Tinnitus Research Gives Hope for Cure

by Celia Hall Medical Editor

Areas of the brain responsible for tinnitus, which causes constant roaring and ringing in the ears, have been isolated for the first time by doctors in America.

The discovery could lead to a cure for the condition, which is linked to deafness. Researchers from the University of New York and the United States Veterans Affairs Department medical centre in Buffalo realised that some patients could control the loudness of the noises by clenching and unclenching their jaws. Using positron emission tomography, or PET scanning, they were able to trace blood flow in the brains of tinnitus patients.

When they made their tinnintus louder, there was a corresponding increase in activity in small areas of the temporal lobe, opposite the affected ear. The results were compared with other tinnitus patients who did not manipulate the noise and with people who did not suffer from tinnitus. Dr. Alan Lockwood, of the State University of New York at Buffalo, who headed the study, said: "By identifying the sites in the brain that mediate tinnitus, we have taken a critical step down the road toward a cure for this disabling condition."

Other findings, never before observed, included an abnormal link in tinnitus patients between the area of the brain responsible for hearing and the limbic system, the brain wiring responsible for emotions, which may explain why tinnitus can be so emotionally crippling.

The study was reported in the medical journal Neurology, published yesterday. (February 1998)


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