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Reviewed by Katelyn Hagerty, FNP
Written by Our Editorial Team
If you’ve had tinnitus, you know just how distressing it can be. Hearing the ringing or whistling in your ears that tinnitus brings on can be frustrating and can distract you in your daily life.
Chronic tinnitus can seriously affect your quality of life and your mental health. It can make you feel like you’ve got hearing loss, cut back on your hours of sleep per night and more.
Tinnitus symptoms can be so troublesome, there’s no doubt you’ll want to get to the bottom of what is causing them. If you do a quick online search for causes, you’ll find a variety of potential options. One that may come up? Anxiety. Keep reading to discover if this mental health condition can really cause chronic tinnitus.
Tinnitus is a condition where you hear a sound that no one else hears. This sound in your ears can be a ringing, a whistling or a roaring. These sounds can be whisper-soft or they can be so loud that you have a hard time hearing anything else.
There are actually a lot of people with tinnitus in the United States. It’s estimated that about 50 million people are affected by tinnitus to some degree. Of those, about 12 million report that it impacts their daily life. This constant ringing can make some people feel annoyed, while other people may feel angry, frustrated or even depressed.
This condition can occur for a short time or it can be long-lasting, which is called chronic tinnitus.
Interestingly, healthcare professionals aren’t quite sure what causes tinnitus. That said, there are things that are thought to be connected to it. For example, it is known that most people who deal with hearing loss also have this ringing or whistling.
You can have bothersome tinnitus without hearing loss too. If you have too much earwax, temporomandibular joint disorder (TMJ), something in your ear or allergies, you may also get tinnitus.
To get a diagnosis, patients with tinnitus usually undergo a physical examination, as well as a hearing test.
You may have noticed that we didn’t link tinnitus and anxiety above— but is there a connection between the two?
Anyone who has an anxiety disorder knows that they come with a ton of different symptoms and side effects.
Some symptoms affect your emotions (think feelings of dread or stress), while others are physical (like a racing heart or sweating).
As for whether anxiety and tinnitus go together, these conditions may be linked. One cross-sectional study found that nearly a quarter of adults with tinnitus reported that they experienced anxiety issues in the previous 12 months.
Another study found that there was a strong prevalence of tinnitus in people who have an anxiety disorder. This is especially true in elderly people and in women.
One thing to note: None of these studies directly say that anxiety attacks (or any psychiatric disorders for that matter) cause chronic tinnitus. Rather, these studies note that patients with tinnitus often dealt with high anxiety levels before developing tinnitus.
There’s a flip side to anxiety and tinnitus that’s worth looking at — namely that you could notice a spike in anxiety levels from tinnitus symptoms. Since tinnitus can sound like a heartbeat, this may be referred to as “heartbeat in ear anxiety.”
Depending on the severity of tinnitus you are dealing with, it makes sense that it could impact your quality of life and induce anxiety.
There is not a ton of research that links the severity of tinnitus to causing anxiety. However, a 2018 study of 4,772 patients with tinnitus and 709,963 people without tinnitus found that the risk of anxiety disorders was significantly higher in the group of people with tinnitus than people without this condition.
Another study looked at individuals with chronic tinnitus and found that those people were more sensitive to experiencing anxiety.
Again, these studies do not flat out say that patients with tinnitus will definitely experience anxiety. They just note the prevalence of anxiety in people with chronic tinnitus.
If you think about it, it makes sense that chronic tinnitus would cause anxiety or other types of psychological distress, since the constant ear ringing can negatively affect someone’s quality of life. When you live in a constant state of worry or aggravation, it’s natural that anxiety would pop up.
If you are dealing with both anxiety symptoms and tinnitus, you’ll want to do something about it. After all, anxiety-induced tinnitus (or tinnitus-induced anxiety) can be very challenging to deal with.
When it comes to treating tinnitus from anxiety, there are two approaches you can take. You can treat tinnitus, which can help with a number of things, including boosting your hours of sleep and generally being less aggravated.
Another approach is to treat your anxiety. If your tinnitus is caused by anxiety (including panic attacks), dealing with that mental health condition can also help get rid of persistent tinnitus.
To figure out your approach, it’s best to speak with a healthcare professional. They’ll be able to assess your symptoms of both tinnitus and anxiety and suggest a way to stop the vicious cycle.
Patients with tinnitus find that their quality of life can be improved if they engage in a tinnitus treatment.
There are a few ways to treat ear ringing. A medical professional can give you the best options for your case. Some things they may suggest include:
A hearing aid: If you have tinnitus and hearing loss, a hearing aid can help improve your hearing and drown out the ringing or whistling you hear.
Relaxation tactics: While this may not get rid of your tinnitus, you may find a positive correlation between relaxing and noticing the ringing less. Whether you meditate or try breathing exercises, finding ways to relax can help you deal with the stress and anxiety that tinnitus can bring on.
Sound generators: There are devices that will deliver sounds to your ears to cover the whistling or ringing that tinnitus causes. You can think of them as personal white noise generators. This type of sound therapy can help with the management of tinnitus.
As you can see, these treatments can help with tinnitus, but none of them actually cure this condition. To do that, you have to get to the root of what is causing your persistent tinnitus.
If your anxiety is causing your persistent tinnitus, you’ll want to deal with your mental health so that you can stop hearing those annoying sounds.
Therapy can be a great tool in helping you address mental disorders like anxiety. Specifically, cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) can help. With CBT, you will do your best to figure out patterns and behaviors that spike anxiety or cause panic attacks.
From there, you’ll come up with ways to control those behaviors so that you can stop the vicious cycle that anxiety causes. CBT is a good option for those with anxiety, but it can work for other mental disorders, too.
If there’s anxiety in your life, another option to treat it is medication. Prescription anxiety medication has been found to be quite effective. You’ll need to talk to a healthcare provider to figure out what medication could work for you. Common anti-anxiety medications include selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), benzodiazepines and beta-blockers.
Whatever solution you find, it's important to try and deal with comorbid tinnitus and anxiety (which is just a fancy way of saying that both conditions are happening at once).
If you don’t deal with these conditions, you may notice that your anxiety gets worse. People with tinnitus and anxiety may also lose hours of sleep or find themselves frustrated with not having normal hearing.
To figure out how to treat your anxiety or chronic tinnitus, it’s a good idea to speak with a healthcare provider. A medical professional can assess the severity of symptoms and come up with a treatment plan. Hers offers online consultation that makes it easy to seek help.
Kate Hagerty is a board-certified Family Nurse Practitioner with over a decade of healthcare experience. She has worked in critical care, community health, and as a retail health provider.
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