The Link Between Tinnitus and Depression

Woman with tinnitus depressed on her couch.

It’s a scenario of which one came first the chicken or the egg. You have some ringing in your ears. And you’re feeling down because of it. Or, perhaps you were feeling a bit depressed before that ringing began. Which one came first is just not certain.

That’s precisely what experts are attempting to find out when it comes to the link between tinnitus and depression. It’s pretty well established that there is a connection between depressive disorders and tinnitus. Study after study has shown that one often accompanies the other. But it’s much more difficult to comprehend the exact cause and effect relationship.

Does Depression Cause Tinnitus?

One study, published in the Journal of Affective Disorders seems to contend that depression may be something of a precursor to tinnitus. Or, said another way: they discovered that depression is often a more visible first sign than tinnitus. It’s possible, as a result, that we simply notice depression first. This study suggests that if somebody has been diagnosed with depression, it’s probably a good idea for them to have a tinnitus screening.

The idea is that depression and tinnitus might share a common pathopsychology and be commonly “comorbid”. In other words, there may be some common causes between depression and tinnitus which would cause them to appear together.

Clearly, more research is required to figure out what that common cause, if there is one, truly is. Because it’s also feasible that, in some cases, tinnitus results in depression; in other situations the opposite is true and in yet others, the two appear at the same time but aren’t related at all. Right now, the connections are just too unclear to put too much confidence behind any one theory.

If I Have Tinnitus Will I Experience Depression?

Major depressive conditions can occur from many causes and this is one reason why it’s difficult to pin down a cause and effect relationship. Tinnitus can also develop for numerous reasons. Tinnitus will normally cause a ringing or buzzing in your ears. At times, the sound varies (a thump, a whump, various other noises), but the main idea is the same. Noise damage over a long period of time is normally the cause of chronic tinnitus that won’t go away.

But chronic tinnitus can have more serious causes. Long lasting ringing in the ears can be caused by traumatic brain injury for example. And tinnitus can happen sometimes with no evident cause.

So will you develop depression if you have chronic tinnitus? The variety of causes of tinnitus can make that tough to know. But what seems pretty clear is that if you don’t treat your tinnitus, your chances will probably increase. The following reasons might help make sense of it:

  • Tinnitus can make doing certain things you love, such as reading, difficult.
  • The ringing and buzzing can make interpersonal communication harder, which can lead you to socially separate yourself.
  • The sound of the tinnitus, and the fact that it won’t go away by itself, can be a daunting and aggravating experience for some.

Dealing With Your Tinnitus

What the comorbidity of tinnitus and depression clue us into, luckily, is that by managing the tinnitus we might be able to give some relief from the depression (and, possibly, vice versa). You can minimize your symptoms and stay focused on the positive aspects of your life by dealing with your tinnitus making use of treatments such as cognitive-behavioral therapy (helping you ignore the sounds) or masking devices (created to drown out the noise).

To put it another way, treatment can help your tinnitus diminish to the background. Meaning that you’ll be able to keep up more easily with social activities. You will have an easier time following your favorite TV program or listening to your favorite tunes. And your life will have a lot less disturbance.

Taking these steps won’t always prevent depression. But managing tinnitus can help based upon research.

Don’t Forget, It’s Still Unclear What The Cause And Effect is

That’s why medical professionals are starting to take a more robust interest in keeping your hearing healthy.

We’re pretty certain that depression and tinnitus are linked even though we’re not sure exactly what the relationship is. Whichever one started first, managing tinnitus can have a considerable positive effect. And that’s the important takeaway.

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