It would seem that tinnitus has been recognised as an ailment for thousands of years. The Egyptians recognised it as such and treated the ear with oil and other infusions. We don’t know if their ministrations were successful! The Romans too recognised tinnitus and in fact the word tinnitus itself comes from the Latin word ‘tinnire’ which means ringing (as of a bell) and a ringing noise is one of the most common to tinnitus sufferers. It is thought that the Romans too treated tinnitus by using oil inserted into the ear.
Many historical characters were reported to have been suffering from tinnitus. Joan of Arc that extraordinary French woman who galvanized the French army in their efforts to drive out the English was said to suffer from the ailment which afflicted her somewhat differently. She heard voices in her head which she believed was the voice of God. Michelangelo, the famous artist who decorated the Sistine Chapel in the Vatican, heard noises in his head. Beethoven the deaf composer apparently suffered from tinnitus also. One of the first scientists to record data about tinnitus was Charles Darwin who kept a diary charting the frequency and severity of his tinnitus.
One of the earliest records we have of a scientific method to treat tinnitus i.e. to use a tinnitus therapy, is that of a French physician who in 1821 recommended the distraction of a crackling wood fire to lessen the tinnitus sensation. The next best known practitioner to recommend treatment was the French scientist Meniere who discovered Meniere’s disease in 1861. Meniere’s disease is a disorder of the inner ear which combines vertigo, hearing loss and tinnitus.
However it was not until the 20th century that real progress was made. Of course it was in the 20th century that it became obvious that the incidences of tinnitus in the general population had increased dramatically and something had to be done. It was not until the mid 20th century that medical practitioners began to specialize in tinnitus and it was then that the modern therapies began to be developed. These specialists, too numerous to mention, began to study tinnitus scientifically and then began to develop their specialist therapies, building upon the work already done. The latest thrust in the development of therapies to cure tinnitus is the emphasis on the development of medications that can impact on what is today considered to be the root cause of tinnitus – over production of glutamate in the inner ear which arises because of damage to the minute hair cells lining the inner ear.