Critics have called A Star Is Born a "modern classic" in its retelling of the 1937 film of the same title—but this time alluding to the adverse impact of tinnitus and hearing loss. Interestingly, the film's director and main character, Bradley Cooper, cast his own ear doctor, William H. Slattery III, MD, from the LA-based House Clinic, to play his character's ear doctor. But beyond the silver screen, Dr. Slattery has been fighting the good fight to help patients—Hollywood stars or not—whose struggles with tinnitus are very real. For Audiology Awareness Month, The Hearing Journal (HJ) spoke with Dr. Slattery on the challenges and opportunities in managing tinnitus. (Be warned: The Q&A contains spoilers.)
HJ: A Star is Born takes the audience to a complex, multi-layered journey. Though staged in fiction, how much of the character's experience with tinnitus and its impact on one's mental health and quality of life would you say reflects the true challenges of people with tinnitus?
Dr. Slattery: There are many millions of Americans suffering from tinnitus, but the severity varies from individual to individual. Jackson Maine in A Star Is Born has very significant tinnitus and, as the character is also dealing with alcohol problems and some other issues, he's not handling it very well. So, it's a portrayal of someone with very significant tinnitus that's really affecting his career, which has sadly been the case in real life in the past as well.
Dr. William H. Slattery III at the set of A Star is Born starring Bradley Cooper and Lady Gaga
HJ: In the movie, you play the physician of someone who's resistant to wear hearing technology that may help his condition. I imagine such resistance is not only among rock stars. How have you handled these patients?
Dr. Slattery: First, I think we have to differentiate between hearing loss treatment and tinnitus. Many who are bothered by tinnitus are frustrated that they're not being offered adequate treatment options and are being told to just "live with it," or frustrated that the treatment options are not good enough. On the other hand, patients suffering from hearing loss are often resistant to treatment or tend to delay the treatment for years.
HJ: So, what do you think is the most challenging aspect(s) of treating and managing tinnitus today?
Dr. Slattery: The big issue is the lack of success in treating tinnitus, as there is no definitive cure. There is, however, an opportunity for new types of tinnitus treatment. Though it's frustrating that the present treatments are not always as successful as we'd like them to be, it's one of the core things we're focused on improving at House Clinic.
HJ: The film shows how serious and destructive tinnitus can be—and, at the very least, informs the public of a condition they may have never heard of. How can hearing health professionals like yourself effectively contribute to this conversation and promote awareness?
Dr. Slattery: I have to give Bradley Cooper credit for being brave enough to put hearing loss and tinnitus in a movie as a subplot. That's how we raise awareness for issues like this: We continue to talk about it, find avenues where we can make it relevant to a wider audience, and give people the information they need to treat themselves better and recognize a problem if it arises.
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