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Tinnitus and Anxiety: 6 Coping Techniques to Help You Deal With Ringing Ears

grandpa with kid

Tinnitus is very common and can have a severe impact on your quality of life. It can cause significant anxiety and distress, making the world a scary and overwhelming place. Understanding tinnitus, why it increases stress and anxiety levels and knowing that there are a variety of treatment options, can help tinnitus sufferers reduce both the ringing in their ears and their anxiety levels. To help you take care of yourself, here are six simple things you can do to better cope with your tinnitus. 

What is tinnitus?

Tinnitus refers to the sound heard in one or both ears when there is no external noise present.  What exactly tinnitus sounds like, differs from person to person. The most common tinnitus descriptions include a high-pitched ring, a buzzing sound, a humming noise, whistle-like, or even cicada-like. In very rare cases, people hear music or voices.  

  • Tinnitus can be heard all the time or only sometimes. 
  • It can be heard in one ear, both ears, and ‘inside your head’.  

While tinnitus is more common in people with hearing loss, people with normal hearing can still experience ringing in the ears.  Many people get so used to their tinnitus that it does not impact their life. For others though, the ringing in the ears can be so intrusive that it impacts their sleep, relationships, work and social life.

talking with a doctor

What causes tinnitus?

The cause of tinnitus is still unknown and the reason why only some people experience ringing in the ears is not understood. It is not a disease, however, is a symptom of another issue.  

Some issues that cause tinnitus include: 

  • Hearing loss
  • Exposure to loud noise
  • Impacted wax in the ears
  • Middle ear infections
  • Head injuries 
  • Whiplash after an accident 
  • And even stress or anxiety caused by life situations  

Some medications, issues with the jaw, and dental problems are other potential causes of ringing in the ears. In very rare circumstances, tinnitus can be a sign for a serious underlying disorder.  

Why does tinnitus cause anxiety? 

Tinnitus can be the result of changes in the ear but also be caused by stress. Some people notice their tinnitus increases after a stressful incident or life-changing event. 

For about 80 per cent of people, their tinnitus subsides or is no longer as noticeable once the stressful event has passed. For others, however, the tinnitus remains and often increases in intensity over time.  

A person’s distress from tinnitus depends on whether the limbic and autonomic systems are activated. This means that if tinnitus is seen by the brain as a threat, you will naturally focus on your tinnitus. The ringing in the ears will unconsciously increase in volume and begin a cycle that leads to debilitating tinnitus.  

the signs of stress and anxiety

How to cope with tinnitus and reduce the associated anxiety 

At present, there is no medical treatment that will cure tinnitus. But there are different treatment options that can help manage your response to the tinnitus by reducing the intensity and associated annoyance. Learning to cope with tinnitus will greatly reduce your stress and anxiety levels.

  • Seek medical advice

If you notice that your tinnitus has recently increased, is in one ear only, has suddenly appeared, or is impacting your ability to sleep, work and socialise, you should visit your GP. The GP will refer you to either an Audiologist or Ear Nose and Throat Specialist (ENT) and in some cases a Dentist.

An Audiologist will conduct a full diagnostic assessment and determine whether you have any hearing loss and if there are underlying medical issues that need further investigation by an ENT Specialist. The ENT Specialist will investigate the ringing in your ears and may request further medical testing such as an MRI. If your GP suspects an issue with your jaw, a visit to your dentist will be recommended.  

visit your dentist

  • Seek hearing solutions

If you were diagnosed with a hearing loss and you have tinnitus, hearing aids can be beneficial.  Hearing aids assist by improving your ability to hear. They also amplify environmental sounds helping to mask your tinnitus by enabling your brain to focus its attention on those sounds rather than the ringing in your ears. 

If the amplification from your hearing aid is not enough, your Audiologist can use a tinnitus masker which is built into most hearing aids. The tinnitus masker generates noise in your ear. By exposing your ears to a noise that is louder than your tinnitus, your brain will focus on the masking noise and not the ringing in your ears.

  • Sound Therapy

Tinnitus is most noticeable in quiet environments and often interferes with the ability to sleep at night. Adding different sounds to your listening environment whether it be a tinnitus app, relax app or even the radio in the background can help mask your tinnitus and direct your brain to focus on the added environmental sounds and not the ringing in your ears. At night, if your partner prefers a quiet environment while sleeping, you might need to consider a sound generator pillow.

grandma with kid

  • Seek Counselling

For a small percentage of the population, their tinnitus is debilitating and prevents them from sleeping, working and socialising. If you are in this situation, a psychologist specialising in tinnitus counselling is strongly recommended.  

The psychologist will use Cognitive Behaviour Therapy to teach you how to cope with the ringing in your ears by replacing negative thinking with more positive thinking. Counselling can be used in conjunction with the other treatment strategies outlined. Talk to your GP, Audiologist or ENT Specialist for psychologist recommendations. 

  • Relaxation

Relaxation is an important part of reducing anxiety with tinnitus. Through relaxation, you will reduce your stress levels. In doing this, your tinnitus volume will decrease and become less noticeable. Methods of relaxation that you could try include muscle relaxation, visualisation exercises or even meditation. Try them all and see which one works for you! 

  • Lifestyle Changes

Improvements in your sleep habits, diet and exercise regime will also assist reduce the anxiety associated with your tinnitus. Dietary changes may assist you particularly if you suspect certain food choices are making your tinnitus louder. For caffeine lovers, the latest evidence shows that caffeine has no effect on your tinnitus. 

Unless you feel that the ringing in your ears increases when you consume, you can continue to enjoy your daily cup of coffee. Daily exercise will assist you to feel better, sleep better and achieve an improved feeling of wellness, therefore, helping to reduce the anxiety associated with tinnitus. Ensure that you check with your GP before starting any exercise regime and start gently first.

Wrapping it up

Tinnitus is a common issue for many people and for most there is no impact on their daily life.  However, for the small percentage of people suffering from debilitating ringing in the ears, appropriate medical advice and treatment as well as utilising different coping strategies will reduce tinnitus volume, anxiety and annoyance with the ringing in your ears.  

To take back control of your tinnitus today and learn to cope with anxiety, get in touch with your local Attune Hearing clinic and make an appointment with one of our qualified audiologists and tinnitus specialists.

As the ringing in the ears and the associated anxiety reduces, tinnitus sufferers will be able to sleep better, work and socialise more leading to an improved quality of life.

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