Animal testing has shown that a particular drug prescribed for seizures can actually be beneficial to those who suffer from tinnitus due to exposure to loud noises. Recent findings have revealed the reason that tinnitus occurs – a new breakthrough in the fight against noise-related hearing problems.

There is no way to cure tinnitus at the present time – hearing aids cannot always fix the problem. Understanding what causes the issue in the first place may be the key to finding a viable solution. Rather than focusing on the ear, the research team examined the part of the brain referred to as the dorsal cochlear nucleus. Tinnitus is related to over-activity in this part of the brain. Impulses are fired when there is no sound present, and the result is a perceived ringing sound that isn’t actually there.

KCNQ potassium channels allow ions of potassium to pass in and out of cells. Research reveals that when mice experience hyperactivity in the dorsal cochlear nucleus there is a direct correlation to less active KCNQ potassium channels. Apparently these channels are responsible for keeping the DCN at a normal level of function.

The mice were exposed to more than 100 decibels for three quarters of an hour. Imagine an ambulance blaring its siren in your ear for that length of time. Under normal circumstances, half the mice would develop tinnitus from this occurrence. This time, the mice were given an epilepsy medication both during the test and on a regular schedule for the next few days. What was the result? The mice did not develop tinnitus from the noise exposure when injected with the medication – this is because the drug targeted 80% of the subunits of KCNQ.

Now that the connection between KCNQ and tinnitus is clear, researchers can begin to better develop treatments that specifically target this potassium channel. Application could include military use, as soldiers are often exposed to sudden loud sounds that can result in permanent hearing damage.