It’s a chicken-or-egg scenario. You have some ringing in your ears. And it’s making you feel pretty low. Or perhaps before the ringing started you were already feeling a little depressed. Which one came first is just not clear.
That’s exactly what scientists are attempting to find out regarding the link between depression and tinnitus. That there is a link between tinnitus and major depressive conditions is rather well established. Many studies have shown that one tends to accompany the other. But the cause-and-effect connection is, well, more challenging to detect.
Does Depression Cause Tinnitus?
One study, published in the Journal of Affective Disorders seems to say that a precursor to tinnitus may be depression. Or, to put it another way: they observed that depression is commonly a more visible first symptom than tinnitus. As a result, it’s possible that we simply notice the depression first. In the publication of their study, the researchers indicate that anybody who undergoes screening for depression may also want to be tested for tinnitus.
Common pathopsychology may be at the root of both disorders and the two are frequently “comorbid”. In other words, there may be some shared causes between tinnitus and depression which would cause them to appear together.
But in order to determine what the common cause is, more research will be required. Because it’s also feasible that, in some circumstances, tinnitus causes depression; in other cases the opposite is true and in yet others, the two happen at the same time but aren’t related at all. We can’t, at this point, have much confidence in any one theory because we just don’t know enough about what the link is.
If I Have Tinnitus Will I Experience Depression?
In part, cause and effect is difficult to pin down because major depressive disorder can develop for a wide variety of reasons. There can also be numerous reasons for tinnitus to happen. In most cases, tinnitus manifests as a buzzing or ringing in your ears. Occasionally, the sound changes (a thump, a whump, various other noises), but the main idea is the same. Normally, chronic tinnitus, the type that doesn’t go away after a short period of time, is caused by noise damage over a long period of time.
But there can be more serious causes for chronic tinnitus. Traumatic brain injuries, for example, have been recognized to cause long lasting ringing in the ears. And tinnitus can happen sometimes with no apparent cause.
So if you suffer from chronic tinnitus, will you develop depression? The wide range of causes behind tinnitus can make that challenging to know. But what seems fairly clear is that if you don’t treat your tinnitus, your risks will probably increase. The reason might be as follows:
- It can be a challenge to do things you enjoy, like reading when you have tinnitus.
- You might end up socially separating yourself because the ringing and buzzing causes you to have difficulty with interpersonal communication.
- The sound of the tinnitus, and the fact that it won’t go away on its own, can be a daunting and aggravating experience for some.
Managing Your Tinnitus
Luckily, the comorbidity of tinnitus and depression teaches us that we may be able to find respite from one by managing the other. You can minimize your symptoms and stay focused on the positive aspects of your life by dealing with your tinnitus using treatments including cognitive-behavioral therapy (helping you overlook the sounds) or masking devices (created to drown out the noise).
Treatment can move your tinnitus into the background, to put it another way. That means social activities will be easier to stay on top of. You will have an easier time following your favorite TV show or listening to your favorite tunes. And your life will have a lot less interruption.
That won’t eliminate depression in all situations. But research reveals that managing tinnitus can help.
Remember, Cause And Effect Isn’t Apparent
That’s why medical professionals are beginning to take a more robust interest in keeping your hearing healthy.
We’re pretty confident that tinnitus and depression are related even though we’re not sure exactly what the connection is. Whether the ringing in your ears or the depression started first, treating your tinnitus can help considerably. And that’s why this insight is important.