Hearing loss is the third most common chronic physical condition in the United States and is more prevalent than diabetes or cancer. Of American adults, some 37.5 million, aged 18 and over, report some trouble hearing. Importantly, the degree of age-dependent hearing loss is directly associated with the degree of age-dependent cognitive decline. The need for prevention, intervention, and rehabilitation is crucial for the improvement of quality of life of many millions of Americans.
Tinnitus, a specific form of hearing loss involving the perception of phantom sound caused by loud noise-exposure, is often a debilitating condition that affects millions of people. Tinnitus is the most prevalent service-connected (SC) disability, with over 60% of returning veterans reporting affected hearing. 1.2 million veterans currently suffer from tinnitus and reporting 140,288 new veterans with the tinnitus entered this pool in fiscal year 2014 alone. The compensation and management costs for military personnel exceeded $4 billion in fiscal year 2014.
The University of Pittsburgh Department of Otolaryngology established an Auditory Research Group in 2007 which has established the University of Pittsburgh as a leader in auditory neuroscience. In 2017, The Pittsburgh Hearing Research Center (PHRC) was established as a continuation of this group’s work, but with a larger network of researchers and clinicians working in auditory science and clinical care. The Pittsburgh Hearing Research Center, PHRC, consists of a dedicated group of scientists, physicians and staff working on basic and clinical aspects of hearing and sound perception, in both health and disease.
In the hopes of providing a solution for tinnitus sufferers, Dr. Thanos Tzounopoulos, founder of the PHRC, focuses his efforts in determining the mechanisms that lead to the triggering (rather than the maintenance) of tinnitus. While we have made major strides in improving the treatment of tinnitus, we recognize that there remains much to learn about the onset of and susceptibility to the condition.