Link Between Stress and Hearing Loss

Dr. Li-Korotky
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Research has demonstrated that many health conditions are linked to stress, but did you know that hearing loss and tinnitus can be added to that list? The link between stress and hearing loss might not make much sense to you, but they do seem to have an indirect connection through the heart and blood vessels. 

Let’s take a closer look at this connection between stress, hearing loss, and tinnitus, as well as some steps you can take to limit your stress this season. 

Stress and Hearing Loss

Although hearing research has not demonstrated a direct link between hearing loss and stress, these two conditions are connected by the essential functioning of the heart and blood vessels. Stress has been demonstrated as a key factor of increased risk of cardiovascular disease and other conditions of the heart and blood vessels. This essential system is responsible for delivering oxygen and essential nutrients to the body, and stress seems to make its task of pumping that delivery system much more difficult. 

How does this relationship further connect to hearing loss? The link has to do with the sensitive and fragile tiny hairlike organelles of the inner ear called stereocilia. These cells have a crucial function in remaining sensitive to frequencies of pressure registering differences in sound. 

With such fragility, the stereocilia are subject to damage by noise as well as the natural aging process, but they are also sensitive to the amount of oxygen and nutrients they receive from the bloodstream. Those who have cardiovascular conditions have higher rates of hearing loss due to this connection, and hearing loss can even be used as an early warning sign of a cardiac event. 

When stress causes the heart and blood vessels to struggle in their job of delivering oxygen to the stereocilia, that deprivation can lead to hearing loss. 

Stress and Tinnitus

Tinnitus is the experience of an ongoing sound that does not originate outside the body, and that constant ringing, whirring, buzzing, clicking, humming, or hissing can be stressful in itself. Stress management techniques have been effective in reducing the attention to tinnitus and its anxiety-inducing effects. In addition, poor circulation can cause a specific type of tinnitus called pulsatile tinnitus, a rhythmic sound sensation that actually originates in the heartbeat. Just as stress can cause high blood pressure, it can indirectly also cause this type of tinnitus in some people. 

Stress Reduction Techniques

In addition to the other steps you can take to reduce your risk of hearing loss, including wearing hearing protection, limiting the time and volume of headphone use, and eating a heart-healthy diet, stress reduction is another practice that can help prevent hearing loss. What can you do to help reduce your feelings of distress in the day-to-day? A few lifestyle habits can transform your life into one that is consistently stressful into one that has a greater sense of ease and peace of mind. 

Exercise is not only good for the body, but it also releases helpful hormones into the bloodstream that regulate stress. Getting enough sleep is essential for the mind to regenerate each day, and consistent lack of sleep is highly correlated with high stress levels. Social support is an essential release valve for the accumulated stress that can build up over the course of time, whether you use those connections for “venting” sessions or simply to know you are not alone in the struggle. 

Many have found practices such as mindfulness meditation, prayer, and religious observance to reduce stress through habits and techniques that put our experiences in a larger perspective. Overall, the ability to smile and laugh has an immense effect on stress levels, and exercising those muscles in the face actually sends a signal of “happiness” to the brain!

If you are concerned about hearing loss, these stress-reduction techniques are a place to start, but an appointment for a hearing test is the best way to affirm whether or not you are in need of assistance. Protective practices are a starting point, but making the decision to pursue treatment is the best way to ensure your hearing health into the new year. What a relief to know that treatment options are available!