Now a doctor, Josef P. Rauschecker, has introduced a new way of thinking about tinnitus. According to this article, the doctor says "tinnitus should be thought of as a disorder akin to the 'phantom pain' felt in an amputated limb." When someone loses a limb, sometimes they continue to feel pain signals sent by malfunctioning neurons. It's similar in tinnitus - sufferers who have lost hair cells in their cochlea experience signals from neurons trying to compensate for a loss of signal. Now the doctor and the co-authors of his study, published June 24th in Neuron, are trying to figure out how to correct the problem.
Interestingly, while it may seem to make sense that simply fixing the damaged hair cells would eliminate the problem, the article explains that tinnitus "becomes a problem in the brain's central auditory pathways, which reorganizes itself in response to that damage." As the brain tries to compensate for missing input, it overreaches, leading to the sensation of tinnitus.
Rauschecker seems confident that one day a pill will be developed to eliminate tinnitus. Fingers crossed!