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 it’s making you feel pretty low. Or, it’s possible you were feeling a little depressed before the ringing began. You’re just not certain which started first.

That’s exactly what scientists are trying to figure out when it comes to the link between depression and tinnitus. That there is a link between tinnitus and major depressive conditions is rather well established. Study after study has borne out the notion that one often accompanies the other. But the cause-and-effect relationship is, well, more challenging to determine.

Is Depression Caused by 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 discovered that depression is often a more visible first symptom than tinnitus. Consequently, it’s possible that we simply notice the depression first. This research indicates that if someone has been diagnosed with depression, it’s probably a good idea for them to have a tinnitus screening.

The idea is that tinnitus and depression may share a common pathopsychology and be commonly “comorbid”. Which is just a fancy way of saying that depression and tinnitus may have some common causes, and that’s the reason why they appear together so frequently.

Needless to say, more research is required to figure out what that common cause, if there is one, actually is. Because it’s also possible that, in some situations, tinnitus results in depression; in other cases the opposite is true and in yet others, the two occur at the same time but aren’t linked at all. Right now, the relationships are just too unclear to put too much confidence in any one theory.

Will I Get Depression if I Have Tinnitus?

In part, cause and effect is difficult to understand because major depressive disorder can develop for a wide variety of reasons. Tinnitus can also develop for numerous reasons. In many cases, tinnitus manifests as a ringing or buzzing in your ears. Sometimes, the sound changes (a thump, a whump, various other noises), but the root idea is the same. Usually, chronic tinnitus, the kind that doesn’t go away after a couple of hours or days, is the result of noise damage over a long period of time.

But chronic tinnitus can have more acute causes. Permanent ringing in the ears is sometimes caused by traumatic brain injury for instance. And tinnitus can happen sometimes with no recognizable cause.

So if you have chronic tinnitus, will you experience depression? The answer is a challenging one to predict because of the variety of causes for tinnitus. But it is evident that your risks increase if you ignore your tinnitus. The reason might be as follows:

  • For some individuals it can be a frustrating and exhausting undertaking to try and deal with the noises of tinnitus that won’t go away.
  • It can be a challenge to do things you enjoy, like reading when you suffer from tinnitus.
  • The ringing and buzzing can make interpersonal communication harder, which can lead you to socially separate yourself.

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 respite from the depression (and, possibly, vice versa). You can minimize your symptoms and stay centered on the positive aspects of your life by addressing your tinnitus using treatments like cognitive-behavioral therapy (helping you disregard the sounds) or masking devices (created to drown out the noise).

To put it another way, treatment can help your tinnitus fade to the background. That means you’ll be capable of keeping up more easily with social situations. You won’t lose out on your favorite music or have a difficult time following your favorite TV program. And you’ll find very little disturbance to your life.

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

Remember, Cause And Effect Isn’t Clear

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

We’re pretty confident that tinnitus and depression are linked even though we’re not sure exactly what the connection is. Whether the ringing in your ears or the depression began first, managing your tinnitus can help considerably. And that’s why this insight is important.

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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.
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