Every one at Open Ear is acutely aware of the importance of protecting our hearing, because of the work we do but also because we love to play, perform, and go to clubs and gigs. Music is our passion, and our ears are always open. Thankfully none of us has suffered more than minor hearing loss so far, but let’s be honest; like everyone else who loves music, the fear is there.
For those people where it’s unfortunately too late there is a minefield of pain, irritation, stilted conversations, and frustration. Hearing damage often shows itself through Tinnitus, which affects up to 10% of the world’s population. Up until now that’s been treated with hearing aids, some of which play alternate tones to mask the dreaded ringing so many of us have experienced for brief spells.
On trial now, however, is a new product developed in Texas called the Serenity System which aims to train the neurons in the brain to ignore or even forget that ringing noise. By attaching a transmitter to the Vagus nerve in the neck and listening to tones that trigger the tinnitus through headphones, the system stimulates the release of chemicals in the brain resulting in a rewiring around the sounds that encourage tinnitus. Whether that’s closer to magic than medicine we don’t know, but we can say that the latest round of tests showed around 50% of participants benefitted from it. Since it’s an invasive surgery we’d assume those people were particularly bad sufferers, but at least it offers some hope for those most in need. Equally, if all goes well it shows that looking at the way our brain processes sound signals may as important as understanding physical ear damage when it comes to planning ways to help hearing damage.