The Emotional Problems Associated with Tinnitus

The Emotional Problems Associated with Tinnitus
Sergio De Dios González

Written and verified by the psychologist Sergio De Dios González.

Last update: 03 May, 2023

Maybe the word “tinnitus” doesn’t mean anything to you, but the truth is that all of us, at some point in our lives, have had it. Have you ever heard a ringing or humming sound that other people around you didn’t hear? Well, it’s not other people talking about you behind your back, it’s tinnitus!

Generally, those sounds which can annoy us to a greater or lesser extent, end up disappearing. Imagine, however, that a noise is there permanently. That you could hear it all the time. How do you think it might influence your daily life to hear a constant ringing or humming sound? Carry on reading and discover the importance of treating the psychological and emotional factors in people who have tinnitus on a permanent basis.

“Tinnitus prevents me from feeling absolute silence.”

-Santiago Segura-

Let’s start at the beginning, what exactly is tinnitus?

With our brief introduction you’ll now have a general idea of ​​what tinnitus is. But, to understand it better, we need to define it more accurately. Firstly, it is the perception of a sound that doesn’t come from an external source.

Let’s take an example. If that ringing or humming we can hear is because it is coming from the TV, then, of course, it isn’t tinnitus. However there is something we must bear in mind. Even though there is no external source for the sound, this doesn’t mean that we haven’t really heard it. It’s not an auditory equivalent of a hallucination.

In addition to this, tinnitus can be perceived in one ear, in both, or it can be felt in the whole head. Finally, even though we are talking about ringing or humming, there are other types of noise too. Common ones are sounds like crickets, or the waves of the sea.

shell on beach

What types of tinnitus are there?

Tinnitus can differ depending on the type of sound the people perceive. However, we can also categorize it as either objective or subjective. We are going to discuss each type, but first of all we must clarify that, even though one type can be called “subjective”, that does not mean that the person is “inventing” it.

The objective tinnitus is the perception of a sound that is generated in the body and that is transmitted to the cochlea via the bones, or by a sound that is transmitted into the cavity of the middle ear. Therefore, it is not due to any problem with our auditory system, but, rather, it is a physical sound that is perceived as normal.

This means that it can be heard by doctors by auscultation. These are arterial noises, arteriovenous fistulas and venous hums. This type has a good prognosis, but only accounts for 5% of cases of tinnitus. On the contrary, subjective tinnitus is only perceived by the patient. That is, it is the perception of sounds that aren’t physical sounds.

As we have already said, this doesn’t mean that the person is inventing it. It is a phantom sensation that is due to a medical condition in the ear or in the auditory nervous system. In this type of tinnitus, the causes can be otological, cardiovascular and vascular, metabolic, neurological, pharmacological, dental and psychological. Yes, psychological. Tinnitus can occur after a time of intense emotional distress.

“Caring for our hearing is something that, unfortunately, is not thought about until one has a problem with it”

-Chris Martin-

How can tinnitus affect the lives of those who suffer from it?

Now that we know a little more about tinnitus, we can look at how it affects the lives of those who suffer from it. Like everything, each case is different. There are people who don’t suffer from discomfort, and who manage to accept it as part of their life, without it affecting them particularly. They are able to block it out, just like people who live in large cities and don’t even hear the hustle and bustle around them.

But there are also cases of people where their tinnitus produces many negative emotions, such as anxiety, sadness or anger. Here, people often enter a vicious circle in which they continually focus on their tinnitus, and can’t stop thinking about it. They want to stop hearing the noise, but not being able to do so causes their concerns to increase. They fear that it will increase in intensity or that they will not be able to handle it.

“Either you get used to them or you go crazy.”

-Steve Martin-

Woman with ear problems

A vicious circle

Generally, these people can’t let go of these thoughts, and can’t stop thinking about the noise. Because of this they miss out on many leisure and pleasurable activities. It becomes a vicious circle which they can’t escape from. Their discomfort increases, as does their awareness of their tinnitus. On top of that, all of this can lead to sleep problems.

Emotional problems are very common, but not knowing how to manage them doesn’t mean that we have to blame those who are in this situation. People in these situations lack effective tools to regulate their emotions and manage tinnitus. For this reason it is so important to contact a psychologist who specializes in the treatment of tinnitus. They will help us to acquire the tools we need to face this frustrating phenomenon.

Images courtesy of Chris Benson, Aaron Burden and Callie Morgan.

This text is provided for informational purposes only and does not replace consultation with a professional. If in doubt, consult your specialist.