Using a non-invasive, non-radioactive imaging technique, scientists have developed the world’s first method to objectively detect and measure tinnitus, a debilitating condition in which a constant sound plays in a person’s head.
Researchers at The Bionics Institute and Deakin University, Australia used functional near-infrared spectroscopy (fNIRS) to measure changes in blood oxygen levels within brain tissue in areas known to correspond with external auditory stimuli and the phenomenon called tinnitus.
Tinnitus is a condition in which people perceive a high-pitched ringing, hissing, roar or buzzing sound in their ears. This can take the form of singular or multiple pitches, which can create a constant dissonant sound in the patient’s head.
The condition affects up to 20 percent of the adult population and, in extreme cases, can cause elevated levels of stress, depression, and cognitive impairment.
There has been no clinically used method to detect and measure the severity of the condition, with patients instead relying on subjective methods such as the Tinnitus Handicap Inventory.
The researchers sought to rectify this by developing a methodology to objectively measure the condition. They collected brain scan data from 25 people with chronic tinnitus and 21 controls, matched for age and hearing loss, as the participants were at rest and while they were subjected to auditory and visual stimuli.
They found that the brain’s response to both visual and auditory stimuli was dampened among patients with tinnitus. A machine learning algorithm was then applied to the data and was eventually capable of differentiating patients with mild symptoms to those with severe tinnitus with 87.32 percent accuracy.
“Much like the sensation itself, how severe an individual’s tinnitus is has previously only been known to the person experiencing the condition,” the researchers wrote.
“Our ability to track the complex changes that tinnitus triggers in a sufferer’s brain is critical for the development of new treatments.”
Think your friends would be interested? Share this story!