Tinnitus is a condition that stems from many potential causes. As a symptom, it can be badly disabling, and may cause serious mental health conditions, including depression and suicidal ideation.
The biggest problem with tinnitus is that there is no general treatment for the condition. Some researchers are hoping that neurofeedback could be that treatment, although many people with tinnitus can get good results now thanks to TMJ treatment.
One Model for Tinnitus
Part of the problem with treating tinnitus is that we’re not entirely sure what causes it. However, one model is that it’s simply a problem of attention. The brain decides to pay too much attention to certain areas of the brain responsible for interpreting sound. As a result, the brain hears sounds that aren’t really there, the way you can make speakers buzz or hum by turning up the volume even if they aren’t getting a signal.
If this is the problem, researchers thought, people with tinnitus should be able to reduce the severity of the condition by retraining their brains. That’s what neurofeedback does. By showing people the level of activity in certain parts of their brain, it encourages them to tamp down that activity.
All You Need Is an MRI
To test that hypothesis, researchers selected 18 people with tinnitus, and performed functional MRI (fMRI) scans on them. This allowed researchers to identify areas of high brain activity related to tinnitus. Then researchers divided the subjects into two groups: a neurofeedback group and a control group.
In the neurofeedback group, people were shown a display based on fMRI readings of relevant portions of the brain. They were given strategies to try to control the brain levels and thereby their tinnitus. The control group was given the same strategies, but they were shown random brain level monitoring from other subjects, not their own levels.
It was found that people who saw their own brain levels were able to control them and reduce their tinnitus better than those who saw random levels.
Now researchers hope that they can develop a version of this treatment that doesn’t require people to be in an MRI machine.
Tinnitus Relief, No MRI Required
Fortunately, for many people with tinnitus, there is a treatment available that can give significant relief. About 80% of people with TMJ experience tinnitus and other ear-related symptoms. For these people, treating TMJ can reduce tinnitus or eliminate it entirely. And many people with TMJ go undiagnosed for years–they don’t recognize the symptoms.