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How stress can affect your hearing

From tinnitus to hearing loss, the affect of stress on your hearing could be highly damaging and last a lifetime.

We all experience stress from time to time, and you are likely aware of the health implications stress can have, but did you know that stress can also take
its toll on your hearing?
This stress awareness week, we are taking a look at the link between stress and the various ways it can impact on your hearing.

Stress can take a major toll on our overall health and wellbeing, and unfortunately our hearing health is no exception. Recent studies have shown
interesting connections between prolonged or chronic stress and issues like hearing loss and tinnitus (ringing in the ears). The reasons for this relationship are still being researched, but some experts believe high levels of stress hormones may damage parts of the auditory system over time. In this post we’ll take a closer look at what the research says, provide some tips for relieving stress that may also benefit your hearing, and give some guidance on getting your hearing tested if you have any concerns.


Studies on Stress and Hearing Loss
A number of studies in recent years have started identifying links between stress, cortisol levels, and hearing loss issues:

  • A 2020 study found a correlation between extended exposure to cortisol stress hormones and sensory cell loss in the inner ear. This type of cell damage can diminish hearing ability over time.
  • A study in 2021 looked at data from over 25,000 participants and found higher self-reported stress levels were associated with a 31% higher rate of hearing loss.
  • Researchers in South Korea found that people with sudden sensorineural hearing loss (when you lose hearing unpredictably and rapidly) also had significantly higher salivary cortisol levels compared to those with normal hearing

So while more research is still needed, the initial data does suggest stress plays a role in hearing loss and other auditory health issues for some people. Finding healthy and effective ways to manage stress may therefore be protective for our hearing as we age.

Tinnitus and Stress
Tinnitus refers to the experience of phantom noises like ringing, buzzing, clicking or roaring in one or both ears. It affects an estimated 50 million Americans, and stress has long been believed to make tinnitus symptoms worse for many sufferers based on anecdotal evidence. Now some clinical data also supports this link. A 2016 review found that stress can indeed exacerbate tinnitus, especially in those who already have relatively high anxiety levels. Stress management and counseling were suggested as ways to help improve quality of life for tinnitus patients. So if you do deal with tinnitus, be mindful that heavy stress periods may intensify the problem. Making de-stressing a priority could help ease the burden.


Tips for Managing Stress
If you currently deal with a lot of stress, taking practical steps to get it under control could benefit both your mental health as well as hearing ability over the long run according to recent research. Here are some effective, evidence-backed ways to better manage stress:

  • Daily exercise – aim for 30 to 60 mins per day
  • Relaxation practices like meditation, yoga, deep breathing
  • Get on a regular sleep schedule and prioritize quality sleep
  • Spend more time doing hobbies and activities you enjoy
  • Limit alcohol, which can mess with stress hormones
  • Speak to a counselor or therapist if stress/anxiety

Taking small steps each day to properly handle stress can add up to big changes over time. Make it a habit to unwind and give your mind and body a chance reload. Your hearing health (not to mention mood and focus) may reap rewards down the road.

Getting Your Hearing Tested
If you have any worries about changes in your hearing capability, it never hurts to get checked out by an audiologist. They can give your ears a close inspection, perform sensitivity tests, and determine if issues like excess earwax or early onset hearing loss are present.

Many hearing problems have very effective treatments, especially when caught early. An audiologist may recommend hearing aids or other devices/therapies to markedly improve hearing ability in cases where some damage or loss has occurred.

Getting in the habit of seeing an audiologist every couple years, especially after the age 50, is smart prevention to preserve your precious ability to hear all the sounds of life clearly. Be proactive about your ear health!

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