Tinnitus – is a new cure imminent?

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Tinnitus – where sufferers hear constant noises like ringing, buzzing, whistling or hissing in their ears – now affects up to 10% of the elderly and many younger people too. Tinnitus is often caused by long-term exposure to noise at work and we continue to handle compensation claims for work-related tinnitus on a regular basis.

Because we know how distressing tinnitus is for its sufferers, we are pleased to see that some progress is being made by scientists studying the condition. They now think that they can 'trick' the brain into 'switching off' the imaginary noises of tinnitus by stimulating a major nerve whilst playing sounds at specific frequencies.

Tinnitus cure and hearing loss compensation claims

The vagus nerve runs from the head and neck down to the abdomen, and when stimulated it releases chemicals which leave the brain open to being rewired. Combined with the carefully tuned sounds played at the same time, scientists believe that they can permanently undo the damage of tinnitus.

Around 600,000 people are badly affected by tinnitus in the UK and find the condition very distressing. This new treatment is not designed to mask the tinnitus, but to retune the brain to eliminate the source of the tinnitus. It’s thought that daily treatment over several weeks could finally be a cure for tinnitus.

The treatment is still in its earliest phases with a pilot trial due to be launched in early 2011. Stimulating the vagus nerve is already an accepted form of treatment for epilepsy and depression, and now it’s to be hoped that it may also be the key to stopping the misery of tinnitus for so many people.

Tinnitus sufferers have often worked in 'noisy' industries such as construction, factories, nightclubs, engineering, shipbuilding, telecommunications and the textile industry. Exposure to noise through specialist equipment used in these industries can be the root cause of tinnitus and, in some cases, you may be able to claim compensation for work-related tinnitus especially if you were not given the correct protective equipment to defend your ears.

"It is always encouraging to hear of new developments when it comes to tinnitus as there are many people who find it truly distressing and to date conventional approaches have left much to be desired. This approach is certainly new and innovative, although I suspect it is still probably sometime before we see these early animal studies translated into routine clinical practice on our patients. In the interim people should be aware that there is help currently available, with most NHS Audiology departments offering tinnitus retraining therapy as part of their service. Clearly one of the big risk factors for the development of tinnitus is prolonged exposure to noise within the workplace. It is only in recent years that many employers have become aware of the importance of ear protection and education. I have been impressed with Simpson Millar’s approach to the problems of work-related deafness and indeed tinnitus. I would urge anyone who has such problems not to suffer in silence! They should seek the attention of a medical professional and if they feel that they have a genuine claim I would certainly advocate the highly professional advice of Simpson Millar" said: Mr Vivian Singh Consultant ENT Surgeon MB ChB (Hons) FRCS, Princess of Wales Hospital, Bridgend.

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Emma Costin - Occupational Illness Solicitor - Bristol

Emma Costin
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