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Ringing In Your Ears? Finally, Researchers Finding New Clues About Tinnitus

Alan Starr, an audio engineer, has tinnitus as a result of the Boston Marathon bombing. (Courtesy of Alan Starr)

Alan Starr, an audio engineer, has tinnitus as a result of the Boston Marathon bombing. (Courtesy of Alan Starr)

By Richard Knox

Alan Starr remembers being blown back by the bomb’s force. He had come to watch a friend cross the Boston Marathon finish line on that fateful April day.

Starr, a 52-year-old audio engineer who makes his living by his ears, suffered no visible injury. But, like at least 70 other marathon bombing victims, he’s left with a never-ending reminder of that moment — a death knell that never stops ringing in his head.

“It’s a very high pitch like a whistle,” he says. “It doesn’t waver. It’s just constant, 24/7.”

It’s called tinnitus, and it’s beginning to get the attention it deserves.

Nearly a million veterans suffer from tinnitus. 

This is partly due to the Boston Marathon bombings. Starr and a few dozen other bombing victims are participating in studies supported by the One Fund, created to help bombing victims, that are aimed at devising an effective treatment.

An even more powerful driver of tinnitus research is the enormous incidence of the problem among Iraq and Afghanistan war veterans who’ve suffered blast damage. Nearly a million veterans suffer from tinnitus. That makes it the leading service-related disability — far outstripping PTSD.

And tinnitus — most often pronounced TIN-uh-tiss — is surprisingly common in the general population. At least one in every six Americans suffers from tinnitus — around 50 million people. Of these, the condition is “burdensome” for 20 million, according to the American Tinnitus Foundation. Two million of them have severe, disabling tinnitus, often accompanied by depression.

The problem has no cure and no very effective treatment. But after decades of dead-end research, scientists are beginning to figure out what causes the constant ringing, whistling, whooshing or hissing that makes sufferers feel trapped inside their own heads.

New research is providing some surprising clues. Continue reading

‘Silent Trauma’: Hearing Loss, Ear Damage Linger Long After Marathon Bombing

Emergency responders comfort a woman on a stretcher who was injured in the Boston Marathon bombing on April 15, 2013. (Jeremy Pavia/AP)

Emergency responders comfort a woman on a stretcher who was injured in the Boston Marathon bombing on April 15, 2013. (Jeremy Pavia/AP)

After two bombs exploded at the Boston Marathon in April of last year, the initial focus was on the lives and the multiple limbs lost in the attack. But ear damage was the most common physical injury. A new report finds that many victims are still suffering from hearing loss and ear damage related to the blasts.

A team of Boston researchers report on the lingering impact of those ear and hearing problems in a new study published in the journal Otology and Neurotology.

The report’s conclusion

Blast-related otologic injuries constitute a major source of morbidity after the Boston Marathon bombings. Orthopedic and soft tissue trauma was sustained by many, but far more incurred ear-related damage. This represents much of the silent trauma that requires continued evaluation and treatment…

More specifically:

Among the 94 study participants, researchers found that 90 percent of the hospitalized patients sustained “tympanic membrane perforation,” basically a ruptured ear drum, following the bombings. From the study:

Proximity to blast and significant nonotologic injury were positive predictors of perforation. Spontaneous healing occurred in 38% of patients, and tympanoplasty success was 86%…Hearing loss, tinnitus, hyperacusis, and difficulty hearing in noise remain persistent and, in some cases, progressive complaints for patients. Otologic-specific quality of life was impaired in this population.

Notably, it took many blast victims some time to realize the extent of their hearing problems, researchers report. Alicia M. Quesnel, an otologic surgeon at Massachusetts Eye and Ear and Harvard Medical School, a senior author of the study told The Washington Post:

“I saw patients who were traumatized by what had just happened, and there was a lot going on emotionally,” Quesnel said. “We were seeing people coming into the clinic in the days and weeks after the bombing. They realized that they can’t hear very well.”

“A bomb going off — that loudness results in some temporary deafening. It may have taken people a few days or weeks to realize ‘I can’t hear from one ear or both ears.'”

Continue reading

Breaking: Shooting At Mass Eye and Ear Infirmary

The Associated Press reports that an inmate going for treatment at Mass Eye and Ear Infirmary in Boston shot a deputy sheriff today and was then shot and critically wounded by another officer:

R23W/flickr

R23W/flickr

Boston Police Commissioner Ed Davis said the shooting happened around noon in the emergency room of the Massachusetts Eye and Ear Infirmary. The two officers from Middlesex County were removing the inmate’s handcuffs when the man grabbed for the gun of one of the officers, he said. During the struggle that followed, one of the deputies was shot in the leg.

The other deputy sheriff then fired his weapon, striking the prisoner in the chest, Davis said.

The officer was taken to nearby Massachusetts General Hospital, where he was in stable condition. The inmate, taken to the same hospital, was believed to be in critical condition. Continue reading

Heart-Warmer Of The Day: Snow Message To Grampa

A view from Mass. Eye And Ear: 'Get Well Grampa'

The @^&$()$ snow. The @%^*($%#( cabin fever. Here’s an uplifting bit of sweetness from Mass. Eye and Ear, the view from their window as posted on Twitter yesterday. In case you can’t make it out (and it might have been hard for its intended recipient, too, if he’s an eye patient) it says, in huge letters written in the snow, “Get Well Soon Grampa.”