Research into noise exposure may shed new light on tinnitus

Thursday, 02 February 2023

A new study to investigate the long-term effects of exposure to loud noises on hearing has been launched and volunteers are needed to take part.

For partygoers who enjoyed dancing away to loud music in the run-up to Christmas, or music lovers who received a new stereo or mp3 player for Christmas, the New Year may come with ringing sounds of a different kind. Tinnitus is when someone hears a noise in their head or ear that has no external source, often buzzing, ringing, whistling, or hissing. It’s believed to affect between 15 and 20 percent of the population.

Researchers at the University of Nottingham’s Sir Peter Mansfield Imaging Centre, are working with the National Institute for Health Research Nottingham Biomedical Research Centre on a new study using MRI imaging to investigate the longer-term effects of noise exposure and are appealing for volunteers to take part.

Noise-induced hearing loss leads to a reduction in quality of life, and is likely to be predictive of more severe hearing loss in old age. Hence, excessive noise exposure is a major public health issue demanding comprehensive investigation
Dr Rebecca Dewey, Senior Research Fellow at the University of Nottingham

As tinnitus can be caused by exposure to loud noises, experts at the University of Nottingham are warning audiophiles this Tinnitus Awareness Week to be careful not to turn the volume up too loud. Noise exposure from personal stereos, live music events and other sources can damage the hearing – leading to problems which are not always easy to identify using regular clinical tests.

Excessive noise exposure is the main cause of preventable hearing impairment worldwide, accounting for more than one-third of all cases of hearing loss in industrialised nations. Some people report that they have difficulty hearing even when an audiologist is not able to detect a hearing loss. Damage from noise exposure is thought to be linked to tinnitus because the areas of the brain that process sounds may work differently after exposure to loud noises.

The researchers are now enlisting the help of people who have been exposed to loud noises in order to study the longer-term effects of noise exposure and are aiming to recruit up to 200 healthy adult volunteers aged 30 to 50 years old.

The study will take place at the University’s Sir Peter Mansfield Imaging Centre on University Park campus and will comprise of two visits each lasting up to two hours.

Volunteers will have an MRI scan to show the areas of the body that help us process sounds, the hearing nerve, brainstem, and brain – and can get a picture of their own brain to keep.

In addition, they will have their hearing tested using similar techniques to those used in audiology clinics. Volunteers will be asked to tell us how much exposure to noises they have had in their lifetime. The measures will be used to understand the relationship between exposure to loud noises and hearing problems.

Craig Davidson

Craig’s story:

45 year old Craig Davidson was concerned about his hearing and has just taken part in a new study led by Dr Rebecca Dewey that is using MRI to investigate the long-term effects of exposure to loud noises on hearing.

“Recently I’ve noticed some changes in my hearing and felt I may have some loss, I sometimes struggle to hear people talking when in a noisy environment like a pub. So I signed up for the study to see if I could find out more about my own hearing and hopefully help others in the future.

I spoke to Rebecca about my concerns and my experience with exposure to loud noise which has mostly been through going to loud music gigs and listening to music on headphones.

Rebecca did some initial audiology tests that confirmed I do have some high frequency hearing loss, which is common in people of my age and with my lifestyle history, but thankfully nothing serious or concerning though.

Then I was put into the MRI scanner, I know for a lot of people this can be an intimidating or worrying experience but I was really relaxed and Rebecca put me at ease and during my hour in there I even think I may have nodded off as I was so relaxed!

I was given some really amazing images of my brain which I shared with my niece Natasha who is really interested in Science. She said they were really cool!

I’m really glad I took part as I was reassured about my hearing concerns but importantly I’ve been involved in cutting edge research that I hope will help Rebecca and her colleagues shed more light on hearing and hearing loss.”

Story credits

More information is available from Dr Rebecca Dewey, Senior Research Fellow in the School of Physics and Astronomy, University of Nottingham at

Jane Icke - Media Relations Manager Science
Phone: 0115 7486462

Notes to editors:

About the University of Nottingham

Ranked in the Top 100 globally and 17th in the UK by the QS World University Rankings 2024, the University of Nottingham is a founding member of the Russell Group of research-intensive universities. Studying at the University of Nottingham is a life-changing experience, and we pride ourselves on unlocking the potential of our students. We have a pioneering spirit, expressed in the vision of our founder Sir Jesse Boot, which has seen us lead the way in establishing campuses in China and Malaysia - part of a globally connected network of education, research and industrial engagement.

Nottingham was crowned Sports University of the Year by The Times and Sunday Times Good University Guide 2024 – the third time it has been given the honour since 2018 – and by the Daily Mail University Guide 2024.

The University is among the best universities in the UK for the strength of our research, positioned seventh for research power in the UK according to REF 2021. The birthplace of discoveries such as MRI and ibuprofen, our innovations transform lives and tackle global problems such as sustainable food supplies, ending modern slavery, developing greener transport, and reducing reliance on fossil fuels.

The University is a major employer and industry partner - locally and globally - and our graduates are the second most targeted by the UK's top employers, according to The Graduate Market in 2022 report by High Fliers Research.

We lead the Universities for Nottingham initiative, in partnership with Nottingham Trent University, a pioneering collaboration between the city’s two world-class institutions to improve levels of prosperity, opportunity, sustainability, health and wellbeing for residents in the city and region we are proud to call home.

More news…

Media Relations - External Relations

The University of Nottingham
YANG Fujia Building
Jubilee Campus
Wollaton Road
Nottingham, NG8 1BB

telephone: +44 (0) 115 951 5798