Does Stress Cause Tinnitus?


Have you ever wondered if your stress causes tinnitus or has the tinnitus worsened your stress? According to the CDC, 10% of the adult population in the US experiences tinnitus. It’s a fair question and today we’re going to answer it for you.

Does Stress Cause Tinnitus?

Stress can advance the beginning and even worsen tinnitus. Emotional stress is frequently associated with tinnitus and other ear-related symptoms. And vice versa.

Tinnitus can stress you out. So the answer to both questions is yes.

Tinnitus induced by stress

What’s The Evidence?

In a published study, doctors evaluated the presence of stress symptoms in patients with chronic tinnitus. They also demonstrated a correlation of stress with tinnitus.

During the study, a hundred and eighty patients answered the Tinnitus Handicap Inventory (THI). This evaluated the impact of tinnitus on their quality of life. They also answered Lipp’s inventory symptoms of stress for adults (ISSL) to quantify the stress.

Researchers found people with tinnitus were directly associated with increased stress. Additionally, they demonstrated the existence of a close relationship between stress and the occurrence of tinnitus.

How Does Stress Cause Tinnitus?

Evidence shows that rats subjected to 2 hours of stress for ten consecutive days developed symptoms like tinnitus. In other studies, over 50% of people said their tinnitus occurred or worsened during a stressful period of their lives.

While the relationship between the two has been established, little is known about how this occurs. Which comes first and why? Here are a few theories.

Theory 1: Tinnitus As An Alarm

One theory is that tinnitus serves as a stress alarm. In many people, when they’re stressed, tinnitus works like an alarm signal. At its onset, the body uses it to inform you that something is wrong or that something potentially dangerous is happening.

It’s a normal response to stress. It’s probably why only 2% of people experience disabling tinnitus. And disabling tinnitus only occurs when the stress or stressor has been present for a very long time. Or among those who cannot “switch off” the alarm.

The fact that psychotherapy is an effective treatment for tinnitus supports this theory.

Theory 2: Stress Hormones

The second theory is that the pituitary releases corticosterone during stressful situations. This affects certain receptors and how they function in the cochlea.

It is postulated that this affects the concentration of potassium in the blood vessels of the cochlear duct resulting in tinnitus.

Theory 3: Neuronal Plasticity

Neuronal plasticity has been widely accepted when it comes to memory, emotion, and learning. It is now being suggested for tinnitus. Neuronal plasticity means that the brain and its nervous system can adapt and change their structure or function depending on the situation. When stress occurs, tinnitus could be a way the auditory system adapts to the new stressor.

The above are just theoretical models. Designing and implementing a clear-cut animal model to study these theories are very challenging. Large-scale epidemiological studies will take decades.

Recognizing Stress

So knowing what we do, what can be done? Most people may not even realize that they are experiencing chronic stress. The nature of their circumstances may subject them to stress 24/7. However, because it’s a constant in their lives, their stress is no longer in the initial alarm stages but rather in the resistance or exhaustion stage.

Stress affects people differently. The first step is to recognize that your body is experiencing stress.

Physical SignsMental SignsBehavioral Signs
  1. Headaches
  2. Eyestrain
  3. Malaise
  4. Body aches
  5. Tiredness
  6. Sleep dysfunction
  7. Change in sex drive
  8. Gastric symptoms
  9. Change in appetite
  10. Loss of hair
  11. Palpitations
  12. Breathlessness
  13. Need to pee or poop repeatedly
  14. Sweating
  1. Depression
  2. Irritability
  3. Anger
  4. Anxiety
  5. Feeling Overwhelmed or “Tense”
  6. Suicidal ideation
  7. Inability to get work done
  8. Poor concentration
  9. Forgetfulness
  10. Restlessness
  1. Tobacco or drug use
  2. Increased Caffeine
  3. Withdrawal from usual activities
  4. Lack of purpose
  5. Outbursts or snapping at others
  6. Increased involvement in multiple activities to get more done
  7. Decreased productivity
  8. Inability to meet deadlines
  9. Inability to cope
  10. Using lots of distractions

How to Deal with Stress and Tinnitus?

Now that you have identified what stress feels like for you, it’s time to do something about it.

Habituation

First, don’t use tinnitus as a barometer of your stress. Every minute your mind is flooded with pieces of information but your mind only focuses on what is most important.

You tend to drown out the sounds of the ticking clock, the dog barking, etc because you’re habituated to it. The same can be done for your stressors and your tinnitus.

Some individuals who developed COVID-19 in a retrospective study said, in their minds, tinnitus was completely pushed to the side. As a result, they didn’t experience it as much.

Therapy

Various therapies have been studied and shown to alleviate tinnitus.

This includes cognitive/cognitive-behavioral treatment, relaxation therapy through deep breathing, massages, aqua therapy, art therapy, meditation, hypnosis, biofeedback, educational sessions, and problem-solving.

These therapies dealt with multiple issues of sleep and depression as well.

Stressor

Of course, the most important way to deal with it is the removal of the stressor. Simultaneously increasing endorphins or feel-good neurohormones through exercise, chocolate, wine, charity, meeting other people, and pets are also effective ways to deal with stress.

Whatever you choose, make sure you choose a combination of solutions to tackle this.

As you have seen, stress and tinnitus are a highly complex and intricately connected problem. They will require a multipronged approach to combat it.

There’s no one-size-fits-all answer to it.

The Sound of Stress

The definition of stress itself has changed over the last few years. Today stress is quantified through biomarkers and hormones. Simultaneously, its effects on the auditory system are still under investigation.

The evidence is clear. Stress can cause tinnitus and possibly worsen it. Tinnitus per se is stressful thus leading to a vicious cycle. Tinnitus may ultimately be the sound of your stress.