Sarah Goodwin

Kathi Ovnic
Holly Korschun
June 1, 1998

Douglas E. Mattox, M.D., former director of Otolaryngology Head and Neck Surgery at the University of Maryland Medical System, is the first chair of the new Department of Otolaryngology in the Emory School of Medicine, effective March 1. The Division of Otolaryngology within the Department of Surgery became a full-fledged medical school department this spring.

"Dr. Mattox has proven his abilities as an effective leader, having built and developed a strong program at Maryland, and his skills as a clinician and researcher in otolaryngology are nationally recognized," said Thomas J. Lawley, M.D., dean of Emory's School of Medicine."

Dr. Mattox performed the first cochlear implants in patients at both Johns Hopkins and the University of Maryland. The tinnitus center he collaborated in at Maryland has thus far treated approximately 900 seriously impaired patients. While only a minor annoyance to the vast majority of people who suffer from it, tinnitus is a major quality of life issue for about four million people in the United States, explains Dr. Mattox, who is considered one of the world's experts in the field.

Dr. Mattox is widely recognized as a clinician and researcher in the areas of hearing loss, cochlear implants and tinnitus (the phantom perception of sound).

He received his bachelor's degree from Dartmouth College and his M.D. from Yale University in 1973. He completed his residency at Stanford University Medical School, then had a distinguished medical career at the University of Texas Health Science Center and The Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, where he became professor and vice chairman of the Department of Otolaryngology, Head and Neck Surgery.

Tinnitus can be perceived as a ringing, hissing or buzzing noise, a cricket sound or a pounding one. "Probably 20% of the population experiences tinnitus at some point, and the incidence increases with age," says Dr. Mattox. Tinnitus is treated primarily by trying to reverse negative associations about the phantom noises and controlled use of external sound.

Through his research into the effects of noise-induced hearing loss, Dr. Mattox has discovered that excessive noise not only destroys the delicate hair cells in the inner ear (cochlea) that transmit sound waves, but in some cases it also causes trans-neuronal damage, or damage to the parts of the brain stem responsible for hearing.

"Noise-induced hearing loss is related to the amount of sound, not whether you like listening to it or not," Mattox points out. It can be caused by any exposure to loud sounds, including industrial noises like heavy equipment, car stereos, walkmans, and even small, unmufflered gasoline lawnmowers and leafblowers. Hearing loss caused by excessive noise can be either temporary or permanent. Permanent damage is caused when the 20,000 hair cells within the cochlea are destroyed. "These hair cells are a non-renewable resource," says Mattox. "The damage is cumulative, and once they're gone, they're gone, even if you destroy just a few at a time."

Mattox's plans for the new department include creating an Emory tinnitus center, helping expand the Emory Sleep Center located at Wesley Woods Medical Center and developing more programs for professional voice care. Otolaryngologists at Emory already are using Somnoplasty, a quick painless procedure to alleviate snoring and symptoms of a stuffy nose and new navigational technology that improves the safety and effectiveness of sinus surgery.

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