Research into noise exposure may shed new light on tinnitus

A new study to investigate the long-term effects of exposure to loud noises on hearing has been launched and volunteers are needed to take part.

For partygoers who enjoyed dancing away to loud music in the run-up to Christmas, or music lovers who received a new stereo or mp3 player for Christmas, the New Year may come with ringing sounds of a different kind. Tinnitus is when someone hears a noise in their head or ear that has no external source, often buzzing, ringing, whistling, or hissing. It’s believed to affect between 15 and 20 percent of the population.

Researchers at the University of Nottingham’s Sir Peter Mansfield Imaging Centre, are working with the National Institute for Health Research Nottingham Biomedical Research Centre on a new study using MRI imaging to investigate the longer-term effects of noise exposure and are appealing for volunteers to take part.

Noise-induced hearing loss leads to a reduction in quality of life, and is likely to be predictive of more severe hearing loss in old age. Hence, excessive noise exposure is a major public health issue demanding comprehensive investigation

As tinnitus can be caused by exposure to loud noises, experts at the University of Nottingham are warning audiophiles this Tinnitus Awareness Week to be careful not to turn the volume up too loud. Noise exposure from personal stereos, live music events and other sources can damage the hearing – leading to problems which are not always easy to identify using regular clinical tests.

Excessive noise exposure is the main cause of preventable hearing impairment worldwide, accounting for more than one-third of all cases of hearing loss in industrialised nations. Some people report that they have difficulty hearing even when an audiologist is not able to detect a hearing loss. Damage from noise exposure is thought to be linked to tinnitus because the areas of the brain that process sounds may work differently after exposure to loud noises.

The researchers are now enlisting the help of people who have been exposed to loud noises in order to study the longer-term effects of noise exposure and are aiming to recruit up to 200 healthy adult volunteers aged 30 to 50 years old.

The study will take place at the University’s Sir Peter Mansfield Imaging Centre on University Park campus and will comprise of two visits each lasting up to two hours.

Volunteers will have an MRI scan to show the areas of the body that help us process sounds, the hearing nerve, brainstem, and brain – and can get a picture of their own brain to keep.

In addition, they will have their hearing tested using similar techniques to those used in audiology clinics. Volunteers will be asked to tell us how much exposure to noises they have had in their lifetime. The measures will be used to understand the relationship between exposure to loud noises and hearing problems.

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