How Tinnitus, Anxiety & Depression Are Connected [2022]

caucasian male holding his left ear to hear better tinnitus

A growing body of research suggests that tinnitus, anxiety and depression are linked. People whose quality of life is impacted by tinnitus often experience anxiety and depression, and vice versa. It’s not clear why this might be the case — but it’s thought that the overlap may be due to the way that these conditions can affect people’s quality of life.

Tinnitus can cause significant distress and can significantly reduce a person’s everyday contentment. Anxiety and depression — both common mental health conditions — can also lead to other problems, such as social isolation or job loss. Together, these conditions can make it difficult for people to live their best lives.

There is still much to learn about the connection between tinnitus, anxiety and depression, but let’s examine what we do know.

What is Tinnitus?

Tinnitus is a hearing impairment that’s usually caused by damage to the inner ear and/or the sound processing mechanisms in the brain. It can be mild, moderate, or severe, and develop at any point in life for a variety of reasons (e.g., exposure to loud noise. aging, injury, etc.).

Common symptoms of tinnitus include a whole assortment of possible noises — from chirping to tinkling to whirring sounds. It’s also common for those with tinnitus to experience secondary symptoms like stress and anxiety, memory problems, sleep troubles, distractibility, and so on.

The 4 Main Types of Tinnitus

Not all cases of tinnitus are the same. This condition can be classified into four distinct categories: subjective tinnitus, objective tinnitus, sensory tinnitus, and somatic tinnitus.

Subjective Tinnitus

Subjective tinnitus is the most common form. Because only you can hear the noise — and the intensity and duration of it can vary — subjective tinnitus is different from person to person.

Objective Tinnitus

Objective tinnitus is quite rare. This kind of tinnitus can only be heard by another person, like an audiologist, using a stethoscope. Interestingly, objective tinnitus also usually follows the same rhythm as the heartbeat.

Sensory Tinnitus

Most people with tinnitus also have sensory tinnitus. It’s linked to an impaired auditory system and may also cause occasional balance issues.

Somatic Tinnitus

Somatic tinnitus usually occurs with physical pressure to or movement of the neck or ear.

What are Anxiety and Depression?

Anxiety and depression are two common, yet complex, mental health concerns that are closely related. Before discussing how they tie into tinnitus, it’s good to have a basic understanding of what these conditions are.

  • Anxiety — a common mental disorder that affects more than 40 million American adults — is a feeling of persistent and excessive worry, fear, and apprehension.
  • Depression — a more serious condition that affects more than 16 million American adults — is characterized by an incessant high or low mood, loss of interest in activities, significant weight changes, poor sleep, and diminished energy levels.

Tinnitus, Mental Health & Quality of Life

woman covering both of her ears with her fingers because of ringing

As we mentioned above, ringing or perceived ringing in the ears isn’t the only hallmark of tinnitus. Tinnitus is frequently accompanied by side effects — like stress and anxiety — that directly or indirectly challenge the mental well-being and quality of life levels of those with the condition.

Tinnitus & Stress

That there’s a connection between stress and tinnitus is beyond dispute. What’s not clear is whether stress is a cause of or result of tinnitus (or both/either). 

It’s likely that tinnitus does spark stress in many. With a constant noise and the cascading discomforts that can present — it isn’t surprising that a significant portion of people with tinnitus report it being a stressor.

There’s less anecdotal or scientific evidence of stress-induced tinnitus, though. However, a 2012 study suggests that stress may lead to tinnitus by influencing physical and chemical responses in your body that can trigger tinnitus.

Tinnitus & Anxiety / Tinnitus & Depression

When dealing with a chronic condition like tinnitus, some stress is expected and perfectly fine, sometimes the nature and magnitude of it crosses into anxiety and/or depression territory.

Similar to stress, we know that tinnitus can bring on anxiety and that a significant portion of people with tinnitus feel anxiety or depression. Research also indicates that the rates and severity of psychological distress go up in tune with the tinnitus severity, a person’s age, and if comorbidities (like depression) are present.

Can Anxiety Cause Tinnitus?

Available literature stops short of saying that anxiety or depression can cause tinnitus because the proof is too weak to be certain. Most studies confirm that the conditions are highly correlated but reiterate the need for additional investigation into this question.

While the connections between tinnitus and anxiety and depression are complex, the takeaway is that these conditions are related and can be exacerbated by each.

Tinnitus & Sleep

african american woman sleeping on her right side

Tinnitus and sleep problems are another vicious cycle to contend with. With 54% of people living with tinnitus also having sleep disorders – this is a big deal.

As you can imagine (or may have experienced), tinnitus can mess with the quality and quantity of one’s sleep. And, a person who is habitually less rested and restored from a good night’s sleep is likely to have worsened tinnitus symptoms.

Moreover, dysfunctional sleep can aggravate stress, anxiety, and depression. But don’t despair — when sleep quality improves, depression and anxiety are reduced

Tinnitus & Headache

Several studies confirm the concurrence of tinnitus and headaches or migraines in some people. However, the kind of headache or migraine you have can make a difference. Overall, though, those with a migraine disorder have an increased chance of developing tinnitus.

This may be a greater issue for women, who are three times as likely to have migraines and more likely to get headaches + tinnitus worsening due to insomnia.

The Hearing Loss Factor 

Hearing loss, another type of hearing impairment, is the inability to hear and/or process sounds normally. This deficit — which can exist at one or more points of the auditory system — has countless possible causes. The vast majority of those with tinnitus also have some level of hearing loss.

Losing the ability to hear can be incredibly frustrating and diminish one’s quality of life. It’s probably not surprising that many who experience hearing loss also struggle with stress, anxiety, and depression. Hearing loss can have a multiplier effect.

Treating Your Tinnitus & Anxiety with the Levo System

Thankfully, medical care and technology have come a long way from herbal concoctions and ear trumpets. The Levo System is at the leading edge of modern treatment for tinnitus.

By addressing your tinnitus, you should see improvements in accompanying conditions like anxiety and sleep issues — and vice versa. The net effect is improved health and wellness as well as better quality of life.

If you’re ready to take the next step towards relieving your tinnitus, contact us today.

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