Stress can be a companion of tinnitus for many who experience tinnitus (or ringing ears), since the noises in the head can be very stressful. For some their tinnitus may be caused by stress or just a period with stress.
Stress caused by tinnitus
People can feel very stressed by their tinnitus, either all the time or occasionally. Others can live with their tinnitus without being stressed. The way people react to tinnitus may vary greatly. But it is well known that tinnitus can be very stressful for some. Those who are most stressed by their tinnitus are normally very bothered by their tinnitus and the tinnitus affects their general wellbeing both mentally and physically.
For some tinnitus and stress can be a vicious circle. Tinnitus causes stress and the stress causes more tinnitus, which again causes more stress and so on.
If you experience stress as a result of tinnitus, you can rely on different types of stress-coping strategies. These may include trying to mentally focus on other things. Relaxation or the opposite by engaging in physical activities or other activities may also reduce the stress level and/or the experienced tinnitus.
Studies about tinnitus and stress
In a study performed by Gomaa and colleagues at Minia University in Egypt, only 25 out of 100 tinnitus patients reported normal stress levels. The majority of the tinnitus patients had at least mild-to-moderate or severe-to-extreme stress levels. This finding is contrasted with a group of patients with hearing loss but no tinnitus, in which none of the 46 patients suffered from stress.
Another study found a direct correlation between the severity of stress and duration as well as severity of tinnitus, meaning that those who experienced the highest levels of stress in most cases also had the most severe tinnitus experience or had been suffering from tinnitus for the longest period of time. The study was conducted with use of the Depression, Anxiety, and Stress Scale (DASS), and included 196 subjects aged from 20 to 60 years. 100 patients suffered from subjective tinnitus associated with hearing loss, 46 patients had hearing loss, and 50 healthy persons not suffering from tinnitus or hearing loss.
Tinnitus caused by stress
Even though a causal link between stress and the onset or progression of tinnitus remains unknown, stress is sometimes reported as the cause of tinnitus.
In a study by S. Herbert, 53.6 % of individuals with tinnitus reported that their tinnitus had appeared during a stressful period of their life and 52.8 % reported that their tinnitus increased during stressful periods. On these grounds, there seems to be an association between stress and the onset or progression of tinnitus.
Gomaa, M.A.M., Elmagd, M.H.A., Elbadry, M.M. et al. (2014). Depression, Anxiety and Stress Scale in Patients with Tinnitus and Hearing Loss. Eur Arch Otorhinolaryngol 271: 2177-2184. DOI: 10.1007/s00405-013-2715-6
Mazurek, B., Haupt, H., Olze, H., and Szczepek, A. J. (2012). Stress and tinnitus — from bedside to bench and back. Frontiers in Systems Neuroscience 6:47. DOI: 10.3389/fnsys.2012.00047
Mazurek, B., Szczepek, A. J., and Herbert, S. (2015). Stress and tinnitus. HNO (2015) 63: 258-265. DOI: 10.1007/s00106-014-2973-7