Researchers have come across a health secret that is quite valuable for anyone whose hearing often involves ringing. More than 36 million people suffer from “tinnitus” and the study uncovered some real hazards involving insomnia.
Essentially, sleep issues have a negative effect on the condition, worsening the functional and emotional toll of chronic ringing, buzzing, hissing or clicking in the head and ears. There is a significant association between insomnia and the severity of perceived tinnitus symptoms — and patients with insomnia report greater emotional distress from tinnitus.
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The ringing of tinnitus goes well beyond the ears. It unfurls into cognitive, emotional, and psycho-physiological problems. Sleep complaints like insomnia could make these people less tolerant of tinnitus, thus making symptoms worse. (Older studies showed a strong link between tinnitus and psychological disturbances.)
While the exact cause of tinnitus is not known, several conditions have been shown to trigger or worsen tinnitus: Exposure to loud noises, wax build-up in the ear, ear or sinus infections, head and neck trauma, and certain disorders like thyroid issues, Lyme disease and fibromyalgia.
In the study out of Detroit, researchers sampled 117 patients treated between 2009 and 2011. They gathered patient information via telephone and written interviews using the Tinnitus Reaction Questionnaire (TRQ) and the Insomnia Severity Index (ISI). The former determines what emotional effects tinnitus have on a person’s life, while the latter is a brief screening measure of insomnia.
The more severe the TRQ results, the more likely it was that a person had insomnia. He or she was also more likely to have greater emotional sensitivity. The greater the insomnia disability, the more severe the patient’s complaints were regarding the tinnitus, the study finds.
Tinnitus is a very challenging health issue. A chronic case may include anxiety, depression, annoyance, or self-reported emotional distress. And one of most frequent self-reported complaint of tinnitus patients is getting to sleep. Now we know that if they don’t get to sleep, or stay asleep, then their tinnitus symptoms grow worse! A catch-22 to be sure.
One takeaway message is that treating insomnia may help patients reduce the severity of their tinnitus symptoms. It might be a good idea to enlist your doctor or a sleep therapist in that pursuit.