Stress Increases Tinnitus Annoyance. Know your Stress Triggers.
Noises perceived in the ears or head are commonly referred to as Tinnitus. Not all tinnitus is the same. There are different types. A professional evaluation can help find the cause of the din and determine the tinnitus type and possible treatment.
Over 90% of tinnitus cases are tied to hearing loss, but not all people with hearing loss have tinnitus. Then there are those who have tinnitus but no hearing loss. Yes, it gets complicated. Tinnitus is one of those mysterious conditions that keeps baffling researchers.
However, stress seems to emerge as a common factor that drives tinnitus annoyance and frustration. Tinnitus itself is tiring and stressful. It puts the brain into “watch” mode. Then stress of any kind can also trigger tinnitus episodes or make an existing condition worse. More tinnitus creates yet more stress. And so, it is easy to end up in some vicious stress/tinnitus cycle. In my experience they feed on each other.
Although studies have made the connection between tinnitus, stress and anxiety, many findings must still be explained. However, as a chronic tinnitus sufferer, I can vouch for the fact that mounting stress aggravates tinnitus significantly. My 24/7 buzzing and hissing noises started after I suffered a sudden, severe hearing loss. I was told that these were subjective “phantom” sounds generated by the brain that only I could perceive or “hear.” The antics of this “ear phantom” never stopped!
Over time, tinnitus has become my bad-stress watchdog. Once I perceive that the noises are getting stronger, change pitch or are new to me, I take heed. Something’s up!
Break the cycle: Know your stress/tinnitus triggers
These are not the same for everybody. What can be changed, eased, or even fixed? Professional help is available to inform, to help rein in emotions and to deal with factors or conditions that feed stress and tinnitus. In support groups, some of the following stress triggers are frequently mentioned, but of course, there are many more:
- Personality influences how we react to change. For those who react more strongly – such as Type A people, like me – tinnitus tends to be more invasive than it is for those who are more laid-back and take things in stride.
- Hearing loss causes stress. Get help. Understand your loss and learn about coping skills.
- Worries create stress and interfere with sleep. The resulting fatigue leads to more physical and mental stress, which can increase or maybe even cause tinnitus. Then, tinnitus itself is known to interfere with sleep. Another vicious cycle?
- Loud noise/music further arouses an already watchful brain. In noisy places my tinnitus experience becomes quite intolerable in a hurry. Also, excessively loud sound further endangers hearing. More hearing loss means more tinnitus! That said, totally quiet places make tinnitus a lot more noticeable. Low noise levels, such as white noise or soothing, pleasant music calm the brain and distract from the tinnitus noise.
- TMJ is related to stress in many ways. Tinnitus is a frequent consequence of TMJ. Get evaluated.
- Rapid barometric pressure changes can result in stress reactions for many with tinnitus and/or inner ear issues. The body goes into fight or flight mode, which can lead to hyped-up tinnitus noise.
- Too much caffeine and other brain stimulants
- Side effects of some medications, such as aspirin-like drugs. check with the doctor or pharmacist.
In the end…
It pays to learn about the sly nature of tinnitus. Identifying my stress triggers and learning stress management and coping skills made a lot of sense and proved to be helpful. The goal is not to let tinnitus rule life. Find out what might cause the sounds. Identify your stress triggers. Instead of feeding and empowering the “ear phantom”, there are ways to chase it away or to keep it in its cage, where it belongs.
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