Today we will talk about some new progress that has taken place to help with tinnitus management. This article is about neurostimulation, more particularly the stimulation of the vagus nerve. I have come across information on research that involves vagus nerve stimulation and tinnitus and would love to share it with you today.
It looks promising and gives more hope to all the tinnitus sufferers out there.
This shows that with the constant development in technological advancements, even tinnitus is given attention to see as to what can be done to lessen or alleviate it in people.
This is so strange as my previous post titled, “Is There a cure for tinnitus, if not, is it the end of world?” talks about no cure currently available. Perhaps, with this new knowledge and research, we may have a foot in the direction of finding something close to a “cure”
Only time can tell, so lets see what happens….
The Purpose and Function of the Vagus Nerve
According to Wikipedia the Vagus Nerve is the 10th Cranial nerve. It is one of the longest of the cranial nerves and it stretches it fibers and sends impulses to almost every organ of the body.
Vagus in latin means “wandering,” and the nerve can be found to make contact with our heart, lungs, abdomen and ears, to name a few organs.
Here are some interesting facts on the Vagus nerve,
- Its activates the Parasympathetic Nervous System(PNS)- so it helps with relaxation, and in this way also controls the health of your immune cells.
- The Vagus Nerve regulates the heart beat and controls breathing and body movement.
- Excessive stimulation of the nerve can cause fainting, with the result of the skin becoming cool and clammy and associated nausea. This is called Vasovagal(vasomotor) Syncope or fainting.
- The Vagus Nerve plays an important role in digestion, by contracting stomach muscles as well as muscles of the intestine, when food enters the body.
- The Vagus Nerve also helps to prevent inflammation.
So, now that we are aware of the importance of the Vagus Nerve, let’s take at look at Vagus Nerve Stimulation and Tinnitus.
What is Vagus Nerve Stimulation?
Vagus Nerve Stimulation(VNS) consists of a device that looks like a pacemaker. It is implanted into the patient’s left chest area and has a wire that runs under the skin. This wire leads to the vagus nerve in the neck, on the left hand side of the body.
This implant generates mild, intermittent impulses that stimulates various areas of the brain.
This implant procedure takes about 1-2hours.The frequency, duration and intensity of the stimulation can be controlled by the operator performing the procedure.
Things to know about VNS
- Approved in 1997 in the US, as add on therapy, for controlling the frequency of seizures in adults and adolescents about 12years of age,
- Approved in 2005 in the US, as add on therapy, for the treatment of chronic depression for patients 18years and older,
- Approved for sale in countries such as Canada and Australia and other markets as a treatment for Epilepsy.In fact, to date, more than 40 000 people have been treated with VNS.
Now its time to ask the main question……
Can Vagus Nerve Stimulation help with Tinnitus?
The research that I referred to earlier is based on a company called MicroTransponder in Dallas. They have developed two VNS systems respectively. One is called the Tinnitus Serenity System and the other is called the Stroke Visitem System.
This is how VNS works for tinnitus.
Stimulation of the Vagus Nerve causes a release of neurotransmitters. Neurotransmitters are basically chemical messengers that are released into the blood stream and are responsible for conveying messages one from nerve to the next. (If you would like to know more, please check out my article titled, Potential New Drug Treatment for Tinnitus)
The Vagus Nerve is part of the learning system. Therefore stimulation of this nerve, releases neurotransmitters, that makes what happens in the immediate environment, important to the brain. In other words, this means that the brain’s attention is focused on this stimulation, which will then direct its learning, by taking the attention away from the tinnitus.
As I had discussed in Tinnitus and the Brain, tinnitus is a perception of noises(such as roaring, ringing, whistling) within the brain caused by an abnormal nerve circuitry taking place in certain parts of the brain.
Neurostimulation allows the brain to be introduced to a frequency that is different to that of tinnitus. This ‘re-training,’ of the brain to the ‘new’ frequency brings the abnormal firing of the nerves, characteristic of tinnitus back to normal.
One of the most common causes of tinnitus is exposure to loud noises. This explains why soldiers who have served in the military complain so often of having tinnitus.
This exposure to the loud noise causes damage to the cochlea. The cochlea is a sea-shell part of the ear that is responsible for sending out the sound that enters the ear, as frequencies to the brain(e.g the auditory cortex) for interpretation.
Various portions of the cochlea capture certain frequencies. Damage therefore to the cochlea does not enable it to properly transmit frequencies to the brain.
Are you all with me????We are almost there, just stick with me!!
As a result, to compensate, the brain starts to look for information from other regions, which ultimately leads to you hearing “phantom” noises, or tinnitus.
CEO, Frank McEachen,is optimistic about this new development and has this to say, “..the result is that a large area of the cortex is communicating between itself which is faulty. Our device is designed to re-normalize this information transference.”
He further believes that this kind of stimulation of nerves directs learning of the brain which is different from the use of drugs.
Drugs may release neurotransmitters, but in doing this, it may just flood the system without actually allowing the brain to make importance of certain events.
This research has just completed its clinical studies. It has received a $5 Million funding and the project would go ahead with launches of the product seen in Europe.
⇒There are various medications that can aggravate Tinnitus. Learn more by reading the article, ‘The Medications that can cause Tinnitus.⇐
What are the common side effects of VNS?
VNS does not involve any surgical procedure of the brain and is a short outpatient procedure. It has a very low incidence of surgical complications, but there are some side effects associated with it.
- Sore Throat,
- Coughing and
- Shortness of Breath
The great part is that these side effects do go away over time. Furthermore, because it is not a drug, it does not interact with any medication.
I do not have any further information on availability or price of this product at this time.
Rest assured as soon I get more information, you will be the first to know.
So, will you try VNS, should it become available you?
I will leave you with a short clip from MicroTransponder discussing their vision of the VNS stimulation in helping with various neurological conditions in the future. Enjoy!!!
I hope that you enjoyed this article on vagus nerve stimulation and tinnitus. If you would like to share or ask anything please leave a comment below and I will get back to you.
Everything of the best to you for 2016.