How tinnitus can affect your mental health and wellbeing

woman with tinnitus
Tinnitus is a hearing condition that causes a high-pitched ringing or constant buzzing sound in one's ear. (Getty Images)

If you’ve ever had the displeasure of hearing a high-pitched ringing sound or constant buzzing in your ear that doesn’t emanate from any external sources, then you might be living with tinnitus.

Tinnitus is a hearing condition that impacts one in seven adults in the UK, 'severely diminishing' the quality of life for one in six of these individuals, according to Tinnitus UK.

While some may be fairly unbothered by it, it can be distressing and debilitating for those it causes prolonged issues for. The condition, which has no cure, can worsen with stress, and in severe cases, can affect sleep or concentration and have a negative impact on mental health.

With that in mind, last month researchers created an app, called MindEar, that aims to help tinnitus sufferers cope with the condition through cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT).

As reported in the Guardian, MindEar provides CBT via a chatbot. It also offers alternative approaches to dealing with tinnitus such as sound therapy.

How does tinnitus impact mental health?

The app is the result of a study published in the journal Frontiers in Audiology and Otology, led by Dr Fabrice Bardy from the University of Auckland, who himself lives with tinnitus.

He wrote that, for some people, experiencing tinnitus can lead to feelings of distress, which in turn draws more attention towards the condition.

For some people, tinnitus can cause feelings of distress that have an impact on their mental health. (Getty Images)
For some people, tinnitus can cause feelings of distress that have an impact on their mental health. (Getty Images)

This leads to the creation of more negative thoughts, while "underlying beliefs and changes in behaviour (eg avoiding situations for fear of making tinnitus worse) also enhance negative thinking, increasing distress and feeding back into the cycle".

However, CBT has been shown to help people manage their symptoms by "reconceptualising the sound to be less threatening".

Commenting on the new app, Andy Shanks, co-founder and CPO at eargym, tells Yahoo UK: "The impact of tinnitus and other hearing problems on mental health is well documented and unfortunately, unsurprising.

"The link between hearing issues, mental wellbeing, and cognitive health, make it more important than ever that hearing care is seen as an integral part of general health and wellbeing. We should all be taking our hearing health seriously."

He adds: "MindEar’s app is a prime example of the potential for digital innovation to tackle lesser-known but debilitating health conditions.

"It’s encouraging to see an app which can reduce the frustrating impacts of a condition – tinnitus – experienced by so many members of our community at eargym."

A December 2023 survey from Tinnitus UK highlights the severity of the mental health impacts that sufferers need help with. More than one in five respondents living with tinnitus experienced thoughts of suicide or self-harm in the past year, more than eight in 10 reported low mood or anxiety, and seven out of 10 felt hopeless or helpless.

As many as 85.7% reported sleep disturbances, while many also suffered from low self-esteem and difficulty thinking rationally, as well as social isolation.

What causes tinnitus?

According to the NHS, it’s unclear what causes tinnitus. It has been linked to hearing loss, conditions like diabetes, thyroid disorders, or multiple sclerosis, anxiety or depression, and a rare inner ear condition called Ménière's disease.

It can also be a side effect of certain medicines, like chemotherapy medicines, antibiotics, non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, and aspirin.

NICE has also stated that tinnitus can be a result of loud noise exposure, which Shanks says is one of the most common causes of preventable tinnitus.

"It's critical that we limit our exposure to noise to prevent any damage to our hearing before it happens," he adds.

"Regularly testing and protecting our hearing, for example wearing earplugs in noisy environments and limiting the time spent and volume at which we listen to music day to day, can drastically reduce our risk of developing hearing loss and conditions like tinnitus.

"By raising awareness and improving accessibility, hearing health apps, which continue to grow in popularity, promise to have a huge impact on those already suffering from hearing related problems, as well as the 1.1 billion young people forecasted to be at risk over the coming decades."

In most cases, tinnitus isn't usually a sign of anything serious and may get better by itself. If you have tinnitus visit the NHS website for things you can do to help.

Speak to your doctor if you experience symptoms of tinnitus (or are suffering with your mental health), and ask for an urgent appointment if it beats in time with your pulse. Go to A&E or call 999 if you have tinnitus after a head injury or alongside sudden hearing loss, weakness in your face muscles, or a spinning sensation (vertigo).

If you need someone to talk to, you can also call Samaritans any time, day or night on 116 123.

Watch: Noel Gallagher has cured his tinnitus

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