On March 18, 2021, the CEO of Texas Roadhouse, Kent Taylor, died by suicide. In a statement released by Texas Roadhouse, Taylor was said to have been suffering from side effects of COVID-19, including tinnitus which became unbearable. According to the American Tinnitus Association (ATA), tinnitus is a condition that impacts an estimated 50 million Americans. But what is tinnitus, and what can you do to stop it?
What is Tinnitus?
The most common definition of tinnitus is ringing in one or both ears. However, tinnitus can also include hearing other sounds such as roaring, clicking, hissing, or buzzing. Tinnitus is both an auditory and neurological condition since it is the perception of sound in the ear that does not actually exist, but it is important to note that it is NOT a disease.
What Causes Tinnitus?
Many things could cause tinnitus, including nerve damage, wax build-up, hearing loss, ear and sinus infections, diseases including Ménière’s disease or heart disease, brain tumors, hormonal changes (especially in women), and thyroid issues. Hearing loss, especially when caused by either working in noisy environments or aging, is also known to contribute to tinnitus.
Is Tinnitus a Side Effect of COVID-19?
There have been many reports of people experiencing hearing loss, or more specifically, tinnitus, after being diagnosed with COVID-19. According to Healthy Hearing, hearing loss and tinnitus are more commonly side effects of COVID-19 complications than COVID-19 in general. In other words, it is rare to experience hearing loss or tinnitus due to COVID-19. Similarly, WebMD said that hearing loss and tinnitus might be more likely to occur in individuals who experience long-term effects of COVID-19, rather than those who have quicker recovery times. Healthy Hearing also suggested that hearing loss and tinnitus could be caused by medication used to treat COVID-19 rather than COVID-19 itself.
How Does Tinnitus Affect People’s Mental Health?
Although tinnitus is not a disease, its impact on people’s mental health may be debilitating and, sadly, deadly at times. According to Psychiatric Times, tinnitus is known to lead to feelings of depression and anxiety. Tinnitus can be stressful for individuals to cope with, especially since it may lead to a lack of sleep and make it more difficult for individuals to concentrate. These factors can significantly reduce an individual’s quality of life and make it difficult for them to cope. If left untreated, tinnitus can have severe negative consequences on an individual, as was Kent Taylor’s case.
Will Getting a Cochlear Implant Help With Tinnitus?
Speaking from my personal experience, I think getting a cochlear implant could potentially help with tinnitus. Tinnitus is common in those who already have severe hearing loss. I noticed that my tinnitus was the worst when I wore hearing aids. I would not say that cochlear implants cured me of my tinnitus. I still hear ringing in my ears on occasion, but it is much less frequent and much more tolerable than before I received cochlear implants.
Many studies have been conducted over the past few years that show cochlear implants to have an overall positive impact on those who suffer from tinnitus. Cochlear implant manufacturer MED-EL also said that cochlear implants could help with tinnitus since they increase the auditory input and restart neural activity in the cochlea. Remember, tinnitus is often caused by nerve damage in the ear, so when you correct the issue of nerve damage, which is precisely what cochlear implants do, you are essentially correcting the problem that leads to tinnitus as well.
Is There a Cure for Tinnitus?
Unfortunately, there are no permanent cures for tinnitus, but research is still being conducted with hope for a future cure. In the meantime, there are several treatment options available that can help to lessen the effects of tinnitus. Hearing aids and cochlear implants have both been shown to help lessen the impact of tinnitus. Counseling can also help those who suffer from tinnitus to learn better coping strategies. Sound generators such as white noise machines may also help mask the sound of tinnitus, making it more bearable.
How Can I Prevent Tinnitus?
Since tinnitus is often caused by hearing loss, including noise-induced hearing loss, one of the best ways to prevent it would be by turning down the volume of audio, including music and television, avoiding noisy environments, and wearing earplugs when you know you will be exposed to noisy environments, such as construction sites. While little is known about whether COVID-19 does, in fact, cause tinnitus, you can also take precautions such as washing your hands, social distancing, and wearing a mask to prevent contracting COVID-19 and to protect yourself from the risk of developing long-term COVID-19 side effects, which may include tinnitus.
If you are experiencing ringing in your ears or tinnitus, you do not have to suffer alone. Don’t be afraid to talk to your primary care doctor or audiologist about your condition. They may have more suggestions on how you can treat it or find relief. If you notice your mental health has deteriorated due to tinnitus, speak up. Your doctor may prescribe you antidepressants or anxiety medication to help you cope with the effects. They can also connect you to a counselor to help you to learn healthier coping mechanisms.