Tinnitus Drowning Out The Buzz

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Tuesday, March 8, 2011 - 3:53pm

New treatment uses music to help tinnitus sufferers overcome the ringing in their ears.

Steve Cooper has been hearing a high-pitched ringing off and on for decades.

The problem started after college, a time when he attended a lot of loud rock concerts.

Coopers suffers from tinnitus.

The condition often stems from some kind of hearing loss and is common among older adults, but doctors are seeing younger patients who've been exposed to loud music or gun fire from combat.

To make up for the hearing loss the brain fills that empty space with noise.

Audiologist Becca Price of Duke University Health System has been treating some of the most severe cases of tinnitus with a device that looks like an MP3 player.

Patients listen to classical or new age music that includes whatever sound is bothering them.

Over time the noise is reduced and the patient continues to listen to the relaxing music.

"We're giving them input in the area where there's damage so the brain says "Ah -- I don't have to go searching for that sound," Price explains.

After about nine months the patient's brain is trained to ignore the ringing.

It's not a cure, but helps the brain focus elsewhere.

It's worked so far for Steve Cooper.

"It has helped me for my quality of life. I don't focus on the ringing all the time. I continue to work," he says.

The Food and Drug Administration approved the Neuromonics device in 2005.

The treatment costs around $4,500.

 

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