There are an estimated 50 million Americans currently suffering from tinnitus and of those 16 million have sought medical treatment. Unfortunately the current protocol for treatment isn’t a cure but rather methods on how to accept and mask the constant background noise that its sufferers experience. Tinnitus is the presence of a phantom noise that can range from low to high, that may be heard in one or both ears and can be experienced continuously or intermittently. The sounds may range from ringing, buzzing, roaring, clicking or hissing.
There are two types of tinnitus the more common is subjective tinnitus which only the sufferer experiences and then there is the more rare type called objective tinnitus; that can be heard by a physician upon examination. The most common causes of this affliction are: hearing loss, exposure to loud noises, fluid in the ear, ear wax, and ear bone changes.
Tinnitus is typically induced by exposure to loud noise and causes whistling, clicking, roaring and other phantom sounds. It is estimated that 5 to 15 percent of Americans suffer from tinnitus, Thanos Tzounopoulos, Ph.D., associate professor and member of the auditory research group in the Department of Otolaryngology, Pitt School of Medicine, where he also holds the auditory physiology endowed chair has said.
Fortunately, the results from a new study could provide some answers needed to help find a proper treatment. The study which findings builds on previous study findings shows that tinnitus linked with hyperactivity of dorsal cochlear nucleus (DCN) cells. The cells send impulses even when there are no sounds to perceive hence causing a phantom noise. The researchers findings have shown that this reaction is a result of reduction in the tiny channels known as KCNQ channels, where potassium ions go in and out of the cell. This information leads researchers to believe that the KCNQ channel could be part of the answer to preventing the onset of tinnitus.
“However, a significant percentage of people are exposed to loud sounds and never develop tinnitus, and there was little known about why that is. That’s what we set out to examine in this study,” Dr. Tzounopoulos has said.
This current study found that of the mice that were exposed to loud noise the ones that did not develop tinnitus had a transient reduction in KCNQ2/3 channel activity, which is followed by a recovery of KCNQ2/3 activity and a reduction in hyperpolarization-activated cyclic nucleotide-gated (HCN) channel activity, another channel through which positively charged ions travel in and out of the cell. Leading researchers to believe that a combination of drugs that enhance KCNQ2/3 channel activity and reduce HCN channel activity could be the key to resilience and reduce susceptibility to tinnitus.
“We have already developed novel activators of KCNQ2/3 channels. The next step, in collaboration with Dr. Peter Wipf, a medicinal chemist from the University of Pittsburgh, is to develop specific blockers of HCN channels,” Dr. Tzounopoulos has said.