Tinnitus is a condition that affects somewhere between 10% - 20% of the population in the United States. Often characterized as a persistent ringing in the ears, tinnitus can range from manageable to completely debilitative. Sufferers have described the ringing “sound” to be similar to a high pitched noise, to a far more serious and constant crashing or exploding sound that gets in the way of conversations, concentration, and daily life.
Until recently, not much was known about the cause or source of tinnitus. Theories generally involved some kind of malfunctions in the inner ear, such as ingrown hairs, or various ear drum conditions, though these theories were disproven by the lack of an actual identifiable “sound.” Within the last few years, however, scientists have found the source and cause of tinnitus. Dr. Thanos Tzounopoulos, of our Department of Otolaryngology at the University of Pittsburgh, was among the first researchers to locate the source of tinnitus – not in the ear, but in the brain. As it turns out, tinnitus is caused by misfiring neuron in the auditory center of the brain, generally due to an imbalance of inhibitors and stimulus in auditory sensation. In other words, the brain is mistakenly responding to sound, where no sound exists, creating the tinnitus effect.
Since this landmark discovery, Dr. Tzounopoulos has been the first to develop an effective animal model to research tinnitus. This has led to numerous new insights into the previously evasive condition. Due to the avalanche of revelations from this revolutionary research, the Department of Otolaryngology and the Eye & Ear Foundation can confidently claim that we are $1 million from a cure for tinnitus.
Please see below links for further information about Dr. Tzounopoulos’ work: