Oct 2020 Wayne State University

The marked resurgence of tinnitus in active U.S. military and veterans’ populations in recent years directly corresponds with blast exposure and intense noise in the field-of-battle.  Indeed, hearing loss and tinnitus have been ranked as the number one and two service-connected disabilities affecting these individuals, particularly those returning home from conflicts and wars in the Middle East. This includes Operations Iraqi Freedom, Enduring Freedom, and New Dawn. As a consequence of these overt acoustic traumas from the conflicts, along with terrorist-related activities, there is an urgent need in the scientific and medical communities to develop novel treatment paradigms to mitigate the burdens of chronic tinnitus and provide treatments options for noise-induced hearing loss. 

Helen KochilasHelen Kochilas, AuD, a recent graduate Wayne State University’s professional doctor-of-audiology program in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences’ Department of Communication Sciences and Disorders, is one who sees the critical urgency. Kochilas’ article “Vagus-nerve stimulation paired with tones for tinnitus suppression: Effects on voice and hearing”, published in the April 2020 edition of Laryngoscope demonstrates there is limited or no adverse side effects of direct vagus-nerve electrical stimulation paired with tones for tinnitus suppression on voice and hearing functions in select individuals with tonal tinnitus. 

Kochilas, who is currently employed as a staff audiologist with North Atlanta ENT and Allergy in Atlanta, found that the application of this targeted neuroplasticity/neuromodulation procedure enhances its applicability and therapeutic benefit of tinnitus suppression in humans. Because the vagus nerve innervates laryngeal structures responsible for motor-speech production, vocal output and speech acoustics, demonstrating negative adverse effects using quantitative voice metrics, represents an important contribution to the scientific literature to further enhance the use of this methodology.  

The vagus-nerve stimulation paired with tones paradigm for tinnitus suppression was “fast tracked” by the National Institutes of Health from animal-to-human studies based on successful basic-science experiments.

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