If you have ever heard a buzzing or ringing in your ears that seems to have no external source, you are most likely dealing with tinnitus. Tinnitus is most often caused by damage to the nerves and cells of the inner ear that send signals to the brain. When these cells are damaged they can involuntarily send feedback to the brain that is manifested as the extraneous sounds of tinnitus.
Tinnitus can be a mild to severe condition and is extremely common. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control estimates that 15% of people worldwide experience some form of tinnitus and this includes about 20 million people who struggle with frustrating chronic tinnitus, while 2 million have debilitating cases, causing anxiety and insomnia.
Tinnitus and Anxiety
When it has been a long day and it is time to unwind, many people look forward to peace and quiet in order to relax. However the buzzing of tinnitus begins it can often be difficult for people to attain that peace. This can amplify anxiety, which in turn amplifies the effects of tinnitus. Scientists suspect that because anxiety can activate the fight or flight system, instigating nerves and increasing blood pressure, it causes more blood to reach the ears, escalating the effects of tinnitus. This is a vicious cycle as tinnitus causes stress and stress causes increased tinnitus symptoms.
Tinnitus and Insomnia
The link between anxiety and insomnia is rather clear. When your anxiety is high it becomes more difficult to sleep. If you rely on a quiet environment to sleep and tinnitus continues to interrupt this can cause cycles of sleeplessness. Insomnia only amplifies stress, impacting your energy level and alertness for the following day. Exhaustion amplifies anxiety and this continues to maintain a cycle of stress. Repeated nights of interrupted sleep can make you feel emotionally drained, more prone to accidents and susceptible chronic health conditions.
What to do to relieve tinnitus?
While increased blood flow can instigate tinnitus, experts believe that it may actually be learned behavior and associations, which are the greatest instigator of acute tinnitus symptoms. Because there is currently no way to reverse the damage to your ears that can cause tinnitus, anything we can do to learn how to live with the condition will keep us calm and our sleep hygiene intact.
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy
Research illuminates how it is not the actual tinnitus but how you respond to the tinnitus. When the sound of tinnitus begins to instigate anxiety, it triggers a response in our brain of alarm. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) is a form of therapy where a trained therapist guides you through conversation on a path that helps retrain your brain and emotions over time, to treat the sound of tinnitus like any other meaningless sound. The less we react to tinnitus, the less of a response our body will provide, allowing tinnitus symptoms to subside overtime.
Alternative therapies such as yoga, acupuncture and meditation have proved successful for individuals who struggle with severe tinnitus. The idea is similar to CBT in which you train your brain to focus on other things, to relieve stress and deescalate the stressful effects of tinnitus. The exercise and focus allows for many to get a good night sleep and wake up feeling rested.
Another successful form of treatment for tinnitus employs using sounds to mask the ringing in your ears. At home try listening to music or the radio to distract you from the sounds in your ears. White noise machines can also provide a static sound that can overpower tinnitus symptoms and fade into the background. There are now features on modern hearing aids, which mask tinnitus frequencies so you can avoid tinnitus while you are out and about.
Check your Hearing
Tinnitus and hearing loss often come hand in hand, as they are both instigated by damage to the inner ear. Hearing loss is a progressive condition often starting slow and escalating through time.
Often tinnitus is one of the first symptoms that you have a hearing issue. And while there is no cure for hearing loss or tinnitus, both issues are effectively treated when using hearing aids.
Hearing aids can amplify missing sounds while masking and reducing tinnitus symptoms. If you are struggling with tinnitus it’s a great idea to make an appointment to have your hearing checked today. You may be able to fix two problems at once!