Beyond the ringing: The psychological impact of Tinnitus

You’re perceiving the sound without it having an external source. Your mind may hear it as a ringing, buzzing or even a hissing sound, but there’s no actual noise. It may occur in one ear or it may be in both.1 You did some internet research, and you think it’s tinnitus.

You may have read that it affects about 10–15 percent of the general population worldwide and that some people are able to manage it without treatment. However, others find it debilitating. You find yourself wishing you were one of the ones who could easily manage it, but you aren’t. It’s stressing you out and you’re not sleeping well. Unfortunately, you’re not the only one.

The stress of Tinnitus

Besides the unsettling feeling that tinnitus can cause, there can be a psychological impact from tinnitus. The emotional distress that tinnitus can make the sound appear even worse. Because the worsening of the sound can cause additional distress, this can become a vicious cycle, leading to additional distress and increasing the severity of the tinnitus.

  • Sufferers often report that they struggle with:
  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Poor concentration
  • Pain
  • Sleep problems 2, 3, 4

Tinnitus can affect the time it takes for the sufferer to fall asleep. The insomnia, along with the emotional distress caused by the tinnitus, can cause a downward spiral that can adversely affect psychological well-being.5 Therefore, learning to manage your tinnitus symptoms may help with anxiety, depression and sleep issues.

The effect on the family

The impact of tinnitus also extends beyond the sufferer. According to the American Tinnitus Association6, family, friends and coworkers may also be affected as they attempt to support someone with tinnitus.

Loud ringing and a sensitivity to noise can make it difficult for people with tinnitus to socialize and communicate normally with others — even with spouses and close friends. Supporters often have their own feelings of frustration and confusion as they struggle to understand and help the tinnitus patient.

What can I do to stop the cycle?

While tinnitus can be a distressing condition, there are treatments that can reduce the severity of the symptoms. A hearing care provider can run a series of tests and offer a course of action to help you find a better way to manage your tinnitus.

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1. Langguth B et al. (2013) Tinnitus: causes and clinical management. Lancet Neurol.12:920-930.
2. Zöger S et al. (2006) Relationship between tinnitus severity and psychiatric disorders. Psychosomatics. 47:282-288.
3. Belli H et al. (2012) Psychopathological dimensions of tinnitus and psychopharmacologic approaches in its treatment. Gen Hosp Psychiatry. 34:282-9.
4. Geocze L et al. (2013) Systematic review on the evidence of an association between tinnitus and depression. Braz J Otorhinolaryngol.79:106-111.
5. Wallhäusser-Franke E et al. (2013) Tinnitus and insomnia: is hyperarousal the common denominator? Sleep Med Rev. 17:65-74.
6. American Tinnitus Association (Website checked May 29, 2019)