Tinnitus, it turns out, is kind of a social animal. It doesn’t like to travel anywhere alone and likes to bring its friends along (uninvited, no less). At least in part, that’s because the body is enormously complicated. When one part doesn’t function properly, a single problem (such as, in this case, tinnitus) can cause issues elsewhere (like some kind of biological Chaos Theory).
The “friends” of tinnitus tend to be medical conditions. Maybe that ringing in your ears is escalating into full-blown hearing loss. Or perhaps you’ve discovered specific noises that create strange emotional reactions.
Conditions related to tinnitus
Because tinnitus is relatively common (something like 15% of people have been diagnosed with chronic tinnitus), it’s rather difficult to parse out cause-and-effect relationships between that ringing in your ears and other issues that might pop up.
That’s why most hearing professionals simply use the medical term “comorbid condition,” which is just a fancy way of saying: two conditions that occur at the same time. But while we may not be able to prove cause and effect, they do often seem to occur together. That’s important to keep in mind as we get into some of these conditions.
Tinnitus and hearing loss are often present at the same time–that is, they are common comorbid conditions. In some cases, hearing loss may cause tinnitus and vice versa, while in other cases they seem somewhat unrelated. According to ATA, 39% of those who suffer from tinnitus also reported hearing loss.
But that number may be low. Other surveys have put that number in the mid 50% range. And still, other researchers point out that many who suffer from tinnitus may have unnoticed levels of hearing loss. So the comorbidity percentage could be much higher. Thankfully, there are treatments for both hearing loss and tinnitus.
Mental health conditions
Depression, anxiety, and other mental health concerns are also widely reported among individuals with tinnitus. This is, at least in part, due to the social isolation that can occur when one is trying to cope with tinnitus or hearing loss. When it’s difficult to maintain a conversation with a friend because of that ringing in your ears, you might call that friend less frequently, or grab a bite at your favorite lunch place less often.
Social isolation and cognitive decline are two of the most significant and common comorbid conditions that health professionals keep an eye out for–and another reason why hearing aids are often a successful treatment.
Meniere’s disease is a condition that primarily affects the inner ear. Random and prolonged bouts of vertigo can result. You can be walking to work normally and then suddenly find yourself quite dizzy and unable to function.
Those suffering from Meniere’s disease may also experience random episodes of tinnitus. For a variety of reasons, those bouts of tinnitus may increase in frequency and severity as you age.
Changes in the way you hear
There are several other hearing disorders that can comorbidly occur with tinnitus–though with less frequency. These disorders change the way you emotionally respond to sounds or the ways in which you hear specific noises. Some examples include:
- Phonophobia: This condition can cause you to have an intense, fearful reaction to loud or specific sounds. A certain squeak from a chair, for example, could cause an intense (and not rationally motivated) reaction.
- Misophonia: Those who suffer from this condition have an intense emotional reaction to specific sounds (such as disgust or anger). The standby example is fingernails on a chalkboard, but misophonia takes that to another level.
- Hyperacusis: If you have hyperacusis, there are going to certain (and specific) types of sounds that actually sound louder than they otherwise would (or should). A whisper, for example, may sound exceptionally loud to you.
Treatment for tinnitus
Whatever medical conditions related to tinnitus that might pop up after (or before) that ringing in your ears, it’s important to know that you have treatment options. Whether that means hearing aids or hearing protection, you’ll be able to minimize or cope with your tinnitus–and any of the comorbid conditions that tinnitus may bring with it.