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The Sounds of Tinnitus…

As much as I’d like to say that this article is a review of a new parody song from Weird Al Yankovic, it’s not. In fact, when it comes to Tinnitus, you won’t find too many people joking about it, although the subject does come up in many songs. Bob Dylan, Robert Plant, Bob Seger, and U2 are just a few songwriters from the modern music era that have penned lyrics about the constant ringing inside their heads. For them and many of us in midlife, it was caused by prolonged exposure loud music; in our cars, at concerts or in the studio. Stage and movie explosions are also a main cause of Tinnitus for many performers like William Shatner, Steve Martin, and the late Leslie Nielsen.

According to the American Tinnitus Association explosions from another type of theater are quickly becoming a main cause of Tinnitus. US military personnel serving in the Iraq-Afghanistan Theater of Operations that have seen combat, serviced loud machinery or have been involved in the explosions of IED’s (Improvised Explosive Devises) are plagued with Tinnitus at an ever increasing rate. Tinnitus has become the number one service-connected disability for veterans.

I have just a minuscule sliver of personal experience of what some members of the armed forces experience in their daily routine when it comes to being assaulted by sound. In my former career as a videographer, I was part of a production crew working on a story about the Navy.  We spent about an hour on the flight deck of the USS Kennedy while F-18 Hornets were being launched. We were given the same hearing protection that the flight deck crews wear. Ear plugs and specially designed ear muffs. Standing 50ft from a jet being catapulted off of a carrier deck was by far the loudest event I have ever experienced in my life. I could literally feel the sound waves hitting my body. US Navy flight deck personnel will at times be on the flight deck for 12 hours a day, 7 days a week for months on end. I’m amazed how they hear at all.

In addition to excessive noise exposure, other causes of Tinnitus are: Meniere’s Disease, head injury, a tumor on the auditory nerve (rare), jaw misalignment, even ear-damaging drugs. Caffeine may also make Tinnitus worse.  Currently 50 million Americans experience some form of Tinnitus; 12 million of those develop persistent to extreme cases. Our aging population of “baby boomers” along with the veterans from our long term military operations assure that Tinnitus will be a major health factor in our society for years to come.Current treatments for Tinnitus are many, and results vary with each individual:

  • Herbal treatments: B vitamins, Ginkgo Biloba, zinc or magnesium tablets have had positive results in some cases.
  • Biofeedback can reduce the severity of Tinnitus if practiced regularly. This relaxation technique doesn’t focus on the Tinnitus, but provides overall relaxation by changing the body’s reaction to stress.
  • Various medications such as Xanax, lidocaine, gabapentin, and antihistamines to name a few, have been researched and have worked in relieving tinnitus in some cases. Using a drug therapy to treat Tinnitus is something that you need to discuss with your healthcare provider. No drug has been developed specifically to treat Tinnitus and all drugs currently used to treat it may potentially have side effects that are undesirable.
  • Sound Therapy is an effective treatment for many people. In many cases a table top white noise generator or regular fans are used to mask the internal sound. This tends to be used at night to help the Tinnitus sufferer mask the noise to the extent that they can fall asleep. There are also wearable devices that resemble hearing aids that can be worn at any time.

I use sound therapy of sorts to get to sleep at night, I tried sound effects of rain or chirping crickets for a while but found that nighttime talk radio is just as affective for me. I think it’s the commercials that do the trick. Also, my CPAP device while not loud, does help mask sound as well. There are many other treatment avenues, consult the ATA website for more detailed information on these and other methods.

Neurostimulation could be the answer.

This year, a new development in the treatment of Tinnitus has shown some initial promise. MicroTransponder is a biotechnology firm founded by former Arizona Diamondbacks Pitcher Will Rosellini and is affiliated with the University of Texas at Dallas. The hope is to develop a minimally evasive wireless device that stimulates the Vagus nerve. Researchers Dr. Michael Kilgard and Dr. Navzer Engineer reported in February 3rd 2011 online edition of Nature, “Repeatedly pairing tones with brief pulses of vagus nerve stimulation completely eliminated the physiological and behavioural correlates of tinnitus in noise-exposed rats. These improvements persisted for weeks after the end of therapy. This method for restoring neural activity to normal may be applicable to a variety of neurological disorders.”

This article from the University of Texas News Center also details their findings: Findings Show Promise in Battle Against Tinnitus

Dr. Engineer
MicroTransponder Management Team
Dr. Kilgard


MicroTransponder is running a human trial with a small number of subjects in Brussels with larger studies to follow. Plans for a US based multi-center study including the possibility of a DoD funded study of military personnel are in the process of submission to both the Department of Defense and the National Institutes of Health.

I am very excited about this potential new treatment. Personally I’d prefer a biotechnological solution over a pharmaceutical approach. Mainly because of the plethora of side effects are normally associated with a drug; but also because I’m a techno-junkie. My love of technology most likely contributed to my Tinnitus, hopefully, technology can let me hear the sounds of silence once again.




Tinnitus refers to sounds that are perceived in the absence of any external noise. These sounds include ringing, hissing, buzzing, pulsing or clicking to name a few. 

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