CHAMPAIGN, Ill. Patients with persistent ringing in the ears a condition known as tinnitus process emotions differently in the brain from those with normal hearing, researchers report in the journal Brain Research.
Tinnitus afflicts 50 million people in the United States, according to the American Tinnitus Association, and causes those with the condition to hear noises that aren't really there. These phantom sounds are not speech, but rather whooshing noises, train whistles, cricket noises or whines. Their severity often varies day to day.
University of Illinois speech and hearing science professor Fatima Husain, who led the study, said previous studies showed that tinnitus is associated with increased stress, anxiety, irritability and depression, all of which are affiliated with the brain's emotional processing systems.
"Obviously, when you hear annoying noises constantly that you can't control, it may affect your emotional processing systems," Husain said. "But when I looked at experimental work done on tinnitus and emotional processing, especially brain imaging work, there hadn't been much research published."
She decided to use functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) brain scans to better understand how tinnitus affects the brain's ability to process emotions. These scans show the areas of the brain that are active in response to stimulation, based upon blood flow to those areas.
Three groups of participants were used in the study: people with mild-to-moderate hearing loss and mild tinnitus; people with mild-to-moderate hearing loss without tinnitus; and a control group of age-matched people without hearing loss or tinnitus. Each person was put in an fMRI machine and listened to a standardized set of 30 pleasant, 30 unpleasant and 30 emotionally neutral sounds (for example, a baby laughing, a woman screaming and a water bottle opening). The participants pressed a button to categorize each s
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University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign