Health Beat: Stopping tinnitus in its tracks

Health Beat: Stopping tinnitus in its tracks

DALLAS - Music is Terry Price's livelihood and passion. As a church choir director, he has performed all over the world.

"I just feel like have the greatest job in the world. I do what I love," Price said.

But one day, the music he loved so much became painful.

"All of a sudden, the higher pitches, instead of sounding like single notes, sounded like clusters of screeches, and it was unimaginably bad. It was terrible," Price said.

Price had tinnitus: a constant high-pitched ringing in the ears. He had to give up music and even contemplated retiring.

"[Patients] generally classify it as annoying, hard to concentrate. It keeps them up at night. It's driving them crazy," said Shawna Jackson, audiologist at the University of Texas at Dallas.

Now, researchers are planning a clinical trial to test Vagus nerve stimulation. A small device is placed directly on the Vagus nerve, and electrical pulses stimulate the nerve while patients listen to certain sounds. The idea is to retrain the brain.

"You tell the brain all the sounds are important except the tinnitus," said Sven Vanneste, associate professor at the University of Texas at Dallas.

In a European trial, 10 patients had the treatment. Half of them experienced significant decreases in symptoms.

As part of this new clinical trial, patients will have treatments for two-and-a-half hours, five days a week from home. The Vagus nerve stimulator is also used to treat other conditions such as epilepsy and depression.

Price hopes to be part of the U.S. trial, but sound therapy has helped him control his symptoms.

"It's dramatically better," he said.

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