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Severe Tinnitus Might Alter Emotional Brain Processing

Update Date: Dec 15, 2015 09:31 AM EST

Does tinnitus, which is also called "ringing in the ears" impact a patient's ability to process emotions?

It actually does. Researchers at the University of Illinois have found that the severity of the illness tends to make a person use different brain areas even while processing emotions.

"We are trying to understand how the brain adapts to having tinnitus for a very long time," said Fatima Husain, University of Illinois speech and hearing science and neuroscience professor. She teamed with kinesiology and community health professor Edward McAuley and neuroscience graduate students Jake Carpenter-Thompson and Sara Schmidt, and gave her comments in a news release.

With the help of fMRI machines, scientists managed to check the changes in blood oxygen levels in the brain through an activity.

Researchers compared patients of mild tinnitus with others who did not have the illness. The health condition is said to impact almost one-third of adults over 65 years. Through the scanner, the participants gave ratings as "pleasant, unpleasant and neutral" sounds, which included giggling children, crying babies and babbling people.

Scientists discovered that patients with mild tinnitus exhibited greater engagement in various parts of the brain even as they processed emotional sounds, as compared with others who did not suffer from it.

The scientists focused on finding out the varying levels of attention, emotion, hearing and sleep.

Patients who exhibited lower tinnitus distress went through an altered pathway in order to process emotional information. While it did not include the amygdala, the frontal lobe which is vital for "attention, impulse control and planning" was used.

Through activation of the frontal lobe, patients may be enabled to keep a handle over their emotions, thus helping to reduce the trauma of tinnitus.

The study is published in the journal PLOS ONE.

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