Jeff Carroll
Jeff Carroll, left, head of the Tinnitus Treatment Center; Qing Tang, Ph.D. candidate; and Bob Cole, 72, discuss Cole's history with tinnitus (ringing in the ears) in a sound booth designed for isolating sounds. Daniel A. Anderson / University Communications

More than 60 million Americans suffer from tinnitus, a persistent high-pitched ringing in the ears. For most people it remains a tolerable background noise, but for some it’s chronic torture.

Treatments are few, inconsistent and there is no cure. But researchers and doctors at UC Irvine are making considerable breakthroughs using a low-pitched external sound to provide relief from the high-pitched tone associated with the disorder.

Starting in Fan-Gang Zeng’s Hearing & Speech Lab, researchers worked with a tinnitus patient using a cochlear implant to create a custom sound that could be played over an MP3 player. The patient, who suffered from severe tinnitus, reported that the “calming, pleasant tone” provided consistent relief.

Continuing that work, Zeng, audiologist Jeff Carroll and Dr. Hamid Djalilian successfully expanded their efforts to treat more tinnitus sufferers – including those who do not wear cochlear implants – to see if custom sound therapy could be used widely. They reported their successes with low-pitched external sound at the September meeting of the American Academy of Otolaryngology.

“There hasn’t been a lot of attention paid to new tinnitus treatments,” said Djalilian, “but our research has been well-received, and people are getting excited about our advancements.”

To bring this work to patients, Djalilian and Carroll have opened a tinnitus clinic at UC Irvine Medical Center, the only facility in Southern California that provides comprehensive care for tinnitus, including customized sound-based therapies.

“We’re getting patients from all over,” Djalilian said. “So many people are suffering from tinnitus, but there are few places that can provide care to them. We can help them with treatments built out of our research.”

To reach the tinnitus clinic, contact Jeff Carroll at 714-456-7017 or