After dealing with tinnitus, the restaurant CEO committed to fund a clinical study into the condition to help members of the military
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kent taylor
Kent Taylor
| Credit: Courtesy Texas Roadhouse

On Friday, the restaurant chain Texas Roadhouse shared the sad news that their CEO and founder, Kent Taylor, died by suicide. His family said that Taylor had battled "unbearable" long-term symptoms after recovering from COVID-19.

"Kent battled and fought hard like the former track champion that he was, but the suffering that greatly intensified in recent days became unbearable," they said in a statement shared with PEOPLE.

One of those post-COVID-19 symptoms was "severe" tinnitus, his family said. Tinnitus is a condition where patients hear ringing or other sounds in their ears that others cannot hear. The condition is common, affecting 15% to 20% of people, but at different severities — some people don't notice the sound, while others say it disrupts their lives.

For those people, it can become constant and overwhelming, inhibiting their ability to function, according to the Mayo Clinic.

"In some cases, the sound can be so loud it interferes with your ability to concentrate or hear external sound," they explain. "Tinnitus may be present all the time, or it may come and go."

Scientists are still unsure how the brain creates these noises, the National Institutes of Health say, but tinnitus is typically caused by an underlying condition like age-related hearing loss, a circulatory issue, exposure to loud noises or an ear injury. And in the last year, tinnitus has come up as a side effect of COVID-19 illness.

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Though tinnitus seems to be a rare symptom of COVID-19, some people have reported dealing with it, or with hearing loss, after their illness. In October, medical journal BMJ published a case study about a 45-year-old British man who developed tinnitus and hearing loss in one ear after he was critically ill with COVID-19. He improved slightly after taking steroids, the researchers said.

Another case study, published by NIH in December, found that a 35-year-old woman who had a mild case of COVID-19 was also dealing with tinnitus well after she recovered from the virus. The researchers pointed out that other bacterial viruses like the flu have also led to tinnitus, and that doctors should look out for the condition in COVID-19 patients, even those with mild cases — "the absence of major symptoms does not guarantee a safe, healthy cochlear function," they said.

People who develop tinnitus can see a doctor to get tested, confirm the diagnosis and look into treatments, like removing earwax buildup, getting hearing aids or addressing other pre-existing conditions that may have caused the condition. But unfortunately, tinnitus can be chronic and sometimes incurable. There are ways to manage tinnitus, like using a white noise machine during sleep or undergoing behavioral treatments to reduce the ringing.

There is a need, though, for more research into tinnitus, and that was something Taylor worked toward in his last days. Before his death, Taylor committed to funding a clinical study into tinnitus to help members of the military who suffer from the condition, his family said.

"In true Kent fashion, he always found a silver lining to help others."

If you or someone you know is considering suicide, please contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255), text "STRENGTH" to the Crisis Text Line at 741-741 or go to suicidepreventionlifeline.org.