You know, tinnitus is a funny word for a condition that is nothing to laugh about.
Well, not really a condition, more like symptom.
Tinnitus is described as a persistent sound inside your ear that’s not real.
It is entirely possible that you have encountered this before, as it is quite a common issue.
One in six Americans (over 50 million) experienced this feeling throughout their lives in varying levels of severity.
It may not seem like much based on this description alone but it can be annoying at best and aggravating at worst.
So aggravating, in fact, that it can actually make your anxiety worse, but more on that later.
One question remains, though – Can anxiety cause tinnitus?
Anxiety is pretty common, and so is tinnitus. It is probably to experience both at the same time, but is there a connection between the two?
A while ago, when my anxiety was at its worst, I experienced tinnitus for the first time.
I believed that the two had to be related, it was as if the constant ringing was fueling my madness over time.
As it turns out, I was kind of right – But not the way I thought I was.
What causes tinnitus in the first place?
To confirm whether or not tinnitus and anxiety are related we are going to have to look at the causes of tinnitus and find out more about it.
So after doing some research, we run into the following causes as possibilities:
- Age-related issues
- Loud noises
- Earwax problems
- Emotional stress
There are more causes of course, but let’s focus on that last one for a moment.
Emotional stress is a major cause of tinnitus, as it turns out.
Not only that but there is a correlation between anxiety and tinnitus.
After all, anxiety is excessive stress, and there is data to indicate that a connection between the two exists
In one study, the researchers gathered 92 subjects with anxiety and depression and requested the to submit questionnaires regarding tinnitus.
According to the results, 22.8% of all patients reported different symptoms of anxiety, which is much higher than the prevalence of anxiety in overall demographics (7.6%).
That’s triple the expected average!
As it turns out, however, data surrounding this entire subject is quite inconclusive.
Sure, it means that more people who suffer from tinnitus also happen to suffer from anxiety when compared to average, but that tells us very little (I’ll explain why in a moment).
To find the connection I needed to boil anxiety down to simpler terms.
Anxiety is stress, but what is stress?
Stress, at its core, is the hormone that our body produces when we are in danger.
This stress hormone, cortisol, encourages us to either take action or flee. This reaction is accompanied by a few defining symps, one of which happens to be tinnitus.
A long time ago, this was a survival mechanism, these days it’s mostly just a nuisance.
This information, however, gives me just the connection that I need.
The real villain is the brain
You see, the ear is a complex structure. As such, it becomes very difficult for us to identify the specifics when it comes to tinnitus.
As such, the mysterious ear ringing proved to be a difficult challenge for the scientific community to solve.
That is until very recently.
In an international effort, the universities of Buffalo, Nanjing (China) and Nova Scotia (Canada) joined forces and came up with surprising results.
As it turns out, tinnitus is not caused by any physical issues within the ear itself, but rather, by the way, the brain process sound.
One part of the brain that is affected by tinnitus happens to be the amygdala.
The amygdala is the part of the brain that is responsible for processing memories and emotions, also making it the part of our brain that is normally associated with anxiety and worry.
Said part of the brain reacts to sound in a certain way.
As research shows, activity within the amygdala increases based on such sounds.
Do you know what else causes an increase in activity in the amygdala? Stress, making tinnitus a possible stressor by itself.
You see, one way the amygdala can react to stress is to activate its auditory functions.
The brain can react to stress by activating its auditory systems and creating these “phantom sounds” as a result.
To put it simply, stress can cause tinnitus and tinnitus can make anxiety worse. Both stress and tinnitus affect the same parts of the brain, after all.
What does it actually mean?
To put it simply, stress, tinnitus and anxiety are all a part of a single cycle, and all of them can be connected to one another.
This raises the question, would stopping one of these factors help with the rest?
Would a reduction in stress help you with your tinnitus?
Is overcoming your tinnitus the way to go when it comes to stopping anxiety?
Would getting rid of your anxiety prevent you from stressing out so much?
Possibly, yet the answer is hardly that simple.
In fact, it is much more complicated.
As it turns out, treating your anxiety won’t always cure tinnitus, in fact, your tinnitus might have nothing to do with your anxiety in the first place!
Tinnitus – a Symptom, a cause or neither?
Do you recall the data that I provided earlier, about how people who had tinnitus seemed more likely to be suffering from anxiety on top of that?
That piece of data didn’t address one important issue – Which one came first, the tinnitus or the anxiety?
As it turns out, this is the million dollar question.
You see, anxiety and stress can cause tinnitus, yet they aren’t the only causes.
Aside from all of the causes that I have previously mentioned, there are many more causes that we have not discussed.
The problem is that tinnitus is quite a general problem, with many possible causes, including other disorders that have nothing to do with anxiety or stress for that matter.
Tinnitus is all about issues in the electrical signaling between different parts of your brain.
The problem is that this description can be tied to a variety of functions within the brain.
There are so many things that can go wrong in your brain that entire academic careers are dedicated to this one part of your body.
Even then, those people who have studied the brain so extensively, hardly know everything about it.
Which is why the description of tinnitus is so generalized, you might as well be asking what causes headaches.
Not only that, but tinnitus can actually make your anxiety worse regardless of any interactions it has with the amygdala.
Think about it for a moment.
Tinnitus is, at its core, an annoying sound that follows you around.
You can’t get rid of it and you can’t make it stop.
According to the data that I have provided at the beginning of this article, the correlation between anxiety and tinnitus is vast.
But that fact alone actually tells us very little.
Sure, overcoming your anxiety may ease your tinnitus, but then again it might have nothing to do with it.
Sadly, this distinction is the best science can do right now.
But that doesn’t mean that these issues aren’t worth solving.
Can anxiety cause tinnitus? Yes, it can
Truth be told, I don’t like ending my articles in such an open-ended manner
Anxiety can cause tinnitus, there is no question about that, both affect the very same parts of the brain after all.
And that is precisely the problem.
While anxiety can cause tinnitus by affecting the amygdala in a certain way, so can many other things.
Not only that, but your tinnitus might be one of your stressors all along!
It is a complex issue, one that requires further diagnosis.
I would advice meeting up with a professional and getting their opinion.
Alongside that, I would recommend trying to treat your anxiety over time.
Even if you are suffering from anxiety, and your anxiety has nothing to do with tinnitus, treatment can only improve your condition given time.
After all, anxiety is still a major problem in your case, regardless of tinnitus.
Aside from getting professional help, you should try and treat your anxiety through self-help methods.
One program that does an excellent job in helping you overcome anxiety is The Panic Away Program.
If you are an anxiety sufferer then you should definitely check it out.
Before you do, however, here is a quick question – Do you feel a connection between your tinnitus and anxiety?
This is a subjective question, of course, but it doesn’t mean that your answers are any less important!
Make sure to write down your answers in the comment section below! Remember, I read every single one of them!
If you have any questions you would like to ask me personally then please send me an email and I will do my best to get back to you.