By Marla Paul, Northwestern University
Our hearing has a secret bodyguard: a newly discovered connection from the cochlea to the brain that warns of intense incoming noise that causes tissue damage and hearing loss, according to new research by Northwestern Medicine scientists.
Scientists believe they have identified the ear’s own novel pain system that protects it from very loud or damaging noise. It may be the reason you jam your fingers in your ears when a fire engine or ambulance wails close by. The nerves that normally alert you to pain – like touching a hot burner on a stove – are not present in your inner ear. So, it needs its own private alert system.
The discovery may provide insight into the cause and treatment for such painful hearing conditions as hyperacusis, an oversensitivity and earache in response to everyday sounds, common in soldiers exposed to explosives in the military, and tinnitus, a persistent and uncomfortable ringing in the ears.
The pathway, which scientists named auditory nociception (pain), is different from