Tinnitus, a chronic hearing condition, is often thought of as a physical health issue. However, not as many people know that tinnitus has been tied to declining mental health, too. October is Audiology Awareness Month, and is a good time to draw attention to what can be a very serious concern.
What is tinnitus?
Tinnitus is the perception of a sound that has no external source. Some of the more common sounds reported are ringing, humming, buzzing, and cricket-like chirps.
Tinnitus is a symptom, not a disease itself, so it can have a number of causes. Tinnitus is most often caused by hearing loss, specifically damage to the inner ear. Hearing loss is often due to aging or loud noise exposure. Tinnitus can also be caused by thyroid problems, blood circulation problems, head or neck injuries, and some medications.
About 36 million Americans are estimated to have tinnitus, and more than 13 million Americans report having it without hearing loss. While most people are able to manage it or ignore it, in some cases it can become debilitating.
How can tinnitus affect mental health?
An estimated two million people have tinnitus so severe they have reported depression, anxiety, anger, post-traumatic stress disorder, insomnia, and even thoughts of suicide.
Many people with severe tinnitus are veterans. Traumatic brain injury and the extreme noise attributed to combat zones have been noted as causes. Other people with severe tinnitus are often those with underlying psychological problems.
Insomnia and tinnitus can feed off of each other in a vicious cycle. People who lose sleep might worry about tinnitus more and worrying about it can cause lack of sleep or restless sleep. This can affect mental health and emotional wellbeing.
While there is no cure for tinnitus, there are fortunately some treatment options. Sound therapy, such as white noise or nature sound machines, has been beneficial in alleviating tinnitus by helping sufferers to avoid silence. Hearing aids can treat the hearing loss often associated with tinnitus. The audiologists at CEENTA also fit devices that use built-in sound generators to provide pleasant sound to the auditory cortex that disrupts the awareness of the tinnitus signal in the brain.
While dealing with the physical aspects of tinnitus is important, it is just as important to deal with the mental health side of severe tinnitus cases. Cognitive behavioral therapy can also help patients deal with the emotional effects of tinnitus.
If you have tinnitus or mental illness, don’t feel that you’re alone or that you need to suffer. Help is available to you, and today is a good day to ask for it.
This blog is for informational purposes only. For specific medical questions, please consult your physician. To make an appointment with an audiologist for tinnitus treatment, call 704-295-3300.