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Ring the alarm!

by YPU Admin on February 7, 2014, Comments. Tags: Audiology, PhD, and Research

Introduction

My name is Hannah Brotherton and I am a second year PhD student in Audiology. After finishing my A Levels in 2007, I studied Biomedical Science-Neuroscience for my first degree at University. I then did a Masters in Research of Biomedical Sciences Neuroscience in 2010, followed by another Masters in Abnormal and Clinical Psychology in 2011. In 2013, I began a PhD in audiology at the University of Manchester.

My PhD involves investigating a mechanism in the brain that may be involved in the development of tinnitus, also known as ‘ringing of the ears’. The majority of individuals that suffer from tinnitus usually have a hearing loss which causes less sound to reach the brain. The mechanism tries to compensate for the hearing loss by turning the ‘volume up’ and increasing the brain activity. A side effect of this over-amplification of brain activity is tinnitus.  


In Depth

What is tinnitus? Tinnitus comes from the latin word ‘tinnure’ meaning ‘to ring’. It is a hearing related condition where the sufferer hears a buzzing in their ears when no actual sound is present. The ringing can take the form of a high-pitched whining, electric buzzing, hissing, humming, tinging or a whistling sound. It has also been described as a ‘whooshing’ sound. For some, tinnitus can come and go, but for others it can be persistent and can cause a great deal of distress.

What do we think causes tinnitus?

There are many theories regarding the development of tinnitus. One theory is there is a mechanism in our brain that when a hearing loss is present, increases the brain activity which can be heard by the individual. 

Our brains are extremely ‘plastic’, which means the brain is able to adapt to any changes in the environment. For example, if the brain is damaged because of a head injury, it will adapt its function to try and compensate for the damage. This also happens when a person has a hearing loss because less sound than normal is reaching the brain, causing the brain to adapt and compensate for this change in function. A mechanism in the brain tries to compensate for the hearing loss by turning the ‘volume up’ i.e. increasing the brain activity.  However, a consequence of this ‘over-amplification’ of brain activity is that it can be heard by the person as a ‘ringing’ sound, which causes the condition tinnitus.

What do I investigate?

My aim is to understand this mechanism in more detail. I do this by getting normal hearing individuals to wear an earplug. The earplug simulates the hearing loss and the mechanism increases the brain activity to compensate for less sound reaching the brain. I measure a reflex of the muscles in the ears that reflects changes in brain activity.

When these participants remove the earplug at the end of the study, this mechanism detects there are normal levels of sound now reaching the brain again and the brain activity returns to normal. If more is understood about where and how this mechanism works, it might be possible to target this mechanism and reduce the brain activity as a treatment for tinnitus. Therefore, it is exciting to be part of research that could lead to an improvement in other people’s lives.


Going Further

You can visit this great website that introduces you to the basics of hearing.

To find out more about audiology and what the course involves, click here.

If you are interested in finding out about other research we do, have a look at this.

Also, have a look at a previous Young Person University blog about Audiology.

 

Focus On...Audiology

by YPU Admin on August 13, 2013, Comments. Tags: Audiology, careers, healthcare, Life Science, pathways, and study



Audiology 


Considering becoming an audiologist?

Not sure what an audiologist is? Well, if you like interacting with people, want to improve somebody’s quality of life and want a career that is people focused but also has elements of science and technology, then a degree in audiology could be just for you.


What is audiology?

Audiology is the branch of science that studies hearing, hearing related disorders, and balance. Audiologists work with people who have hearing and balance conditions, so you will get to work with people of all ages, from new-born babies to adults. Audiologists are also responsible for the patient’s management, which may include counselling and fitting of hearing aids. As the world gets more crowded, and ‘louder’, and people get older, more and more people will need help from audiologists. Just check out the figures: there are more than 10 million people in the UK with some form of hearing loss. That’s one in six of the population. There are more than 45,000 deaf children in the UK and, on average, it takes around ten years for people to seek help about hearing problems. By 2031, it is estimated that there will be 14.5 million people with hearing loss in the UK. Hearing problems are only going to get more common and that means the world needs more audiologists!


Studying audiology

There are lots of different training and education options if you want a career in audiology. You could work alongside an audiologist as an assistant, or work as a Hearing Aid Dispenser in which you would need to do a foundation degree (see http://www.bshaa.com). If you are not really sure where you want to work, but would like to see patients then you may want to study an audiology degree. Here at The University of Manchester we offer both undergraduate and postgraduate degrees, which combine the practical, theoretical and clinical aspects of audiology. These courses are part of the Audiology and Deafness Group at Manchester, which is the oldest audiology department in the UK, dating back to 1919. In addition we have strong links with the NHS, where some of our courses provide placements in NHS clinics. Click here to find out the many different courses we offer. Also why not find out what one of our first years has to say about the course….here


Career Paths

Completing either an undergraduate or postgraduate degree at The University of Manchester prepares you for a career in the NHS or the independent sector. Audiologists are part of a big team and work with: speech and language therapists; teachers of the deaf; ear, nose and throat specialists; and social services. But if working in the NHS doesn’t appeal to you, there are loads more options. Graduates from our courses have found work with companies that create and dispense hearing aids or have become lecturers at universities, undertaking their own research. Others now work for hearing charities or at schools that specialise in teaching children with hearing problems. The career opportunities as an audiologist are very good and, with an ageing population, the demand for audiologists will only increase.


Our Research

One example of a research project being carried out at The University of Manchester is investigating the changes in brain activity after wearing an earplug in one ear for a short period of time. Our brains are able to compensate for a change in hearing. If you have a hearing loss, the brain will increase its activity to compensate for less sound reaching the brain. However, in some people, the brain activity will increase too much and this can lead to tinnitus, a condition where the person hears a high-pitched ringing noise (this is why the condition is also known as ‘ringing in the ears’). Little is known about what causes the brain to overcompensate and where and when these changes occur. We hope to understand more about the changes in brain activity and how it can lead to tinnitus by simulating hearing loss, which involves wearing an earplug and measuring the changes in brain activity. If we can understand more about the changes in brain activity, this could lead to a better understanding of tinnitus. If you would like to know more about our other research projects, visit our website.


Find out more about audiology

Have a look at our website for more information about Audiology at The University of Manchester.

For up-to-date news about what we do in our department and school, check out our blog.

Check out our very own Professor Chris Plack, explaining how the ear works using only the thousand most used words in the English Language.

The British Society of Audiology supports audiology across the UK and you can find out about the latest news and events from their website.

Check out The British Academy of Audiology (BAA) that supports Audiologists and provides advice on careers in Audiology.