'I'm curious about a cure for my tinnitus'
"I cried for six months when I found out."
Tessa Law was inconsolable for six months after she was diagnosed with tinnitus. Even now, four years later, she refuses to believe it is irreversible; she won’t give up hope for a cure.
Also known as ringing in the ears or head, tinnitus is a highly prevalent condition afflicting seven per cent of New Zealanders – approximately 345,000 people.
“I literally woke up and it was really loud. It started to dawn on me this was tinnitus and chronic,” the Aucklander says. “I thought I would not be able to have a normal life. It was totally consuming. I felt like I couldn’t breathe or think. All I wanted was to get away from that noise in my head.”
Tessa’s tinnitus is a perpetual cacophony of screaming – primarily it sounds like cicadas with screeching train brakes, and occasionally a tea kettle whistle on top.
Associate Professor Grant Searchfield has been researching tinnitus for several decades, and is renowned around the world.
He credits much of his research success to funding from the Auckland Medical Research Foundation (AMRF), from when he was an emerging researcher. Through the decades AMRF has aided trials of new treatments, laying the foundations for future studies.
Grant, the Clinical Director of the University of Auckland’s Hearing and Tinnitus Clinic, collaborated on the creation of the Tinnitus Functional Index, internationally considered the gold standard measure on tinnitus’s effect on quality of life.
“Our research has been well received internationally. We really are at the cutting edge in New Zealand,” he says.
That gives Tessa hope. “I spent the first few years chasing solutions. I went to London to a tinnitus clinic, then I went to the University of Auckland tinnitus clinic, and that far surpassed the Harley Street one.
“I totally believe that if it came on suddenly it can be turned off suddenly too. But research is vital – or nothing changes. I have hope because Grant is one of the best in the world.”
Grant says the key to effective treatments is discovering that there are different types of tinnitus. “Now we are able to tailor treatment. Tinnitus can be a barometer for stress. Our brain is developed to use auditory information for our survival, so the brain focusses heavily on that sound and we become more aware of it.
“We can train the brain to reverse that automatic focus to not listen into it. An end goal would be to find a cure for the millions worldwide with tinnitus. If my work can contribute to this I’d be very happy.”
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