The Connection Between Tinnitus and Depression

Woman with tinnitus depressed on her couch.

It’s a chicken-or-egg scenario. You have some ringing in your ears. And it’s making you feel pretty low. Or, it’s possible you were feeling a little depressed before the ringing started. You’re just not sure which happened first.

When it comes to the link between depression and tinnitus, that’s precisely what researchers are trying to figure out. It’s pretty well established that there is a link between depressive disorders and tinnitus. The notion that one often comes with the other has been well established by numerous studies. But the cause-and-effect relationship is, well, more challenging to detect.

Does Depression Cause Tinnitus?

One study, published in the Journal of Affective Disorders appears to say that depression may be somewhat of a precursor to tinnitus. Or, to put it another way: they found that depression is frequently a more noticeable first sign than tinnitus. Consequently, it’s feasible that we simply observe the depression first. In the publication of their study, the researchers indicate that anyone who undergoes screening for depression might also want to be tested for tinnitus.

Shared pathopsychology might be at the root of both disorders and the two are commonly “comorbid”. Which is just a technical way of saying that tinnitus and depression might have some common causes, and that’s the reason why they manifest together so frequently.

Clearly, more research is required to figure out what that shared cause, if it exists, truly is. Because it’s also feasible that, in some circumstances, tinnitus causes depression; and in other situations, the opposite is true or they happen simultaneously for different reasons. 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 Suffer From Tinnitus Will I Develop Depression?

Major depressive conditions can develop from numerous causes and this is one reason why it’s tough to recognize a cause and effect relationship. There can also be quite a few reasons for tinnitus to manifest. In many cases, tinnitus presents as a ringing or buzzing in your ears. Sometimes, the sound varies (a thump, a whump, a variety of other noises), but the underlying concept is the same. Noise damage over a long period of time is normally the cause of chronic tinnitus that is probably permanent.

But there can be more severe causes for chronic tinnitus. Traumatic brain injuries, as an example, have been known to cause long lasting ringing in the ears. And in some cases, tinnitus can even develop for no discernible reason at all.

So if you suffer from chronic tinnitus, will you experience depression? The answer is a complicated one to predict because of the wide variety of causes for tinnitus. But what seems fairly clear is that if you leave your tinnitus untreated, your risks may increase. The reason might be the following:

  • 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.
  • You might wind up socially isolating yourself because the buzzing and ringing causes you to have trouble with social communication.
  • It can be a difficulty to do things you like, like reading when you suffer from tinnitus.

Treating Your Tinnitus

What the comorbidity of depression and tinnitus clue us into, fortunately, is that by treating the tinnitus we might be able to give some relief from the depression (and, possibly, vice versa). From cognitive-behavioral therapy (which is designed to help you disregard the sounds) to masking devices (which are created to drown out the noise of your tinnitus), the right treatment can help you decrease your symptoms and stay focused on the joy in your life.

To put it in a different way, treatment can help your tinnitus fade to the background. That means social situations will be easier to stay on top of. You will have an easier time following your favorite TV show or listening to your favorite music. And you’ll find very little disturbance to your life.

That won’t stop depression in all cases. But research suggests that treating tinnitus can help.

Remember, Cause And Effect Isn’t Clear

Medical professionals are becoming more interested in keeping your hearing healthy because of this.

We’re pretty confident that tinnitus and depression are connected even though we’re not certain exactly what the relationship is. Whether the ringing in your ears or the depression started first, managing your tinnitus can help significantly. And that’s why this information is important.

The site information is for educational and informational purposes only and does not constitute medical advice. To receive personalized advice or treatment, schedule an appointment.