What is tinnitus
Tinnitus is a condition characterized by ringing or other noises in one or both ears. Tinnitus can be caused by hearing loss, ear infection, head or neck injuries, certain medications, or symptoms of other health conditions. Tinnitus can also cause other complications from sleep problems, social problems, and other mental health issues.
Tinnitus effects on mental health
anxiety and Stress
Often people pondered the “chicken-or-the-egg” conundrum, does anxiety cause tinnitus or tinnitus cause anxiety? Research continues to try and answer that question. In a longitudinal study examining the correlation between anxiety and tinnitus, the researchers found that those with tinnitus had a high incident rate of anxiety. They further noted that the correlation could be due to anxiety causing tinnitus, tinnitus and anxiety effect each other equally, or that there is another factor affecting both anxiety and tinnitus. Other factors may be genetic or neurological dysfunction (Hou, Yang, Tsai, Shen, Lan, 2020).
There are neurological networks that share commonalities between anxiety and tinnitus. The Limbic System and the Dorsal Cochlear Nucleus (DCN) are thought to be neurological contributors to anxiety and tinnitus. One of the functions of the Limbic System is to manage emotional states. While one of the functions of the DCN converting auditory stimuli in the brain. The proximity of these two neurological networks can possibly affect each other in times of stress.
Regardless of the correlation of anxiety and tinnitus, the end result is still feeling a sense of anxiety and stress. Individuals have noted that they feel more stressed and anxious when they experience increasingly louder ringing in their ears (due to the tinnitus) and in a cyclical fashion they find that the symptoms of tinnitus are further exacerbated, creating significant distress.
Similarly to anxiety, depression and tinnitus correlation is still being researched. In a scientific review, the researchers arrived to a similar conclusion: depression affects tinnitus, tinnitus causes depression, or depression and tinnitus are symptoms of another condition (Geocze, Mucci, Abranches, de Marco, Penido, 2015). Furthermore, depression and tinnitus can be correlated due to the the neurological proximity and the functionality of the Limbic System and the DCN.
Due to the symptoms of tinnitus being unrelenting, individuals may feel hopeless in achieving relief. These symptoms may also affect sleep, causing fatigue and low energy. Furthermore, it may impact people’s motivation to engage in social activities, resulting in social isolation. All of these secondary symptoms can cause one to become depressed.
Neurofeedback As a treatment for Tinnitus
As previously established, tinnitus has neurological origins. With that understanding, researchers have studied using Neurofeedback as a treatment strategy for tinnitus. In a study, researchers found that Neurofeedback training can assist individuals in controlling their attention to the auditory stimuli, and thusly experienced a reduction in symptoms (Busse, Low, Corona-Strauss, Delb, Strauss, 2008). In another study, researchers found that utilizing Neurofeedback training to modify specific brainwaves, patients with tinnitus has experienced major to complete symptom relief (Dohrmann, Weisz, Schlee, Hartmann, Elbert, 2007).
Neurofeedback is also an affective non-pharmaceutical treatment strategy to treat the aforementioned complications of tinnitus. Studies have shown that Neurofeedback training can reduce anxiety through brainwave regulation. Studies have also shown that Neurofeedback training can assist in establishing normalized neurological activity in individuals experiencing depression.
This month’s post was written by Aarti S. Felder, MA, LCPC, BCN. Aarti is our chronic illness specialist and is a Board Certified Neurofeedback practitioner.