Sensations
Fact Checked

Anxiety and Ringing in the Ears

Jenna Jarrold, MS, LAC, NCC
Anxiety and Ringing in the Ears

Ringing ears is a common symptom of a variety of conditions. Some experience ringing ears when sick with a cold. Others get ringing ears after listening to loud music. While others seem to get have ringing ears for no reason at all.

Ringing ears is called "tinnitus," and it is an unusual condition that can be caused by a host of different factors, most of which are not considered serious. As many as 50 million people in the United States alone have dealt with ringing ears at some point in their lives, and 12 million of them experience a ringing so pronounced that medical attention is sought.

Many who seek medical attention for their tinnitus find it is connected to anxiety.  This is often confusing for these individuals, as it feels like it does not make sense. What is the relationship of anxiety and ringing in the ears?

Causes of Ringing Ears

If a person experiences ringing ears and it is affecting his or her everyday life, it might be important to see a doctor. This could be related to anxiety, and although anxiety rarely causes a persistent, long term ear ringing, it can, in some cases.

Unfortunately, it seems doctors are still not entirely clear on what causes tinnitus. There are many different theories that have to do with the activation of the follicles within the ear (which contribute to noise sensations) including the potential damaging of the follicles and the energy and blood flow received from the brain. Tinnitus is especially common with both aging and noise related hearing loss, as well as ear infections, and medication side effects.  In a few rare cases, neurological problems may contribute to ringing ears.

How Ringing Ears is Caused By Anxiety

It is very common for there to be no identified underlying cause is found for tinnitus, which can be confusing for those suffering from the tinnitus. Doctors and researchers are aware that anxiety and stress have a relationship to ringing ears, but the nature/cause of that relationship is complicated by the fact that many people can develop tinnitus for no known reason at all.

Generally, most ringing in the ears caused by anxiety is temporary. It tends to occur at the height of a panic attack and then slowly dissipates as the panic attack fades. This leads many to believe that the tinnitus must be caused by some type of blood flow issue or head pressure. Some people experience a sense of “ear fullness” during anxiety attacks, which further contributes to the belief that there is a connection between anxiety and ear health.  

There are several other related theories as well, and it is likely all of these play a role in the link between anxiety and ear ringing:

Oversensitivity

Anxiety can cause two very problematic issues potentially connected to tinnitus. The first is that anxiety can cause an issue known as "hypersensitivity," which is when a person with anxiety becomes extremely aware (hyper-aware) of each and every pain, feeling, or sensation in the body. It is a common problem for those with anxiety attacks and may affect any person with varying levels of anxiety.

The second problem is that anxiety can make it difficult to ignore a stress-inducing situation or problem. Thus, for a person who may have very mild, almost imperceptible tinnitus initially, the anxiety may make it difficult to ignore it.  Researchers indicate that many people living with ear ringing are not aware of that ringing at all, because it is not loud enough and the body adjusts to ignore it. Those with anxiety may have a harder time adjusting.

Pre-Existing Ear Ringing

In the same respect, if a person has previously experienced ear ringing (but were able to ignore it), something can “re-trigger” the tinnitus, and the resulting ringing becomes louder than it was before.  The reason(s) behind this (the how or why) is still not clear. It is likely that anxiety and adrenaline (which can cause a change in blood flow) ends up exciting whatever was causing your tinnitus initially. Regardless of the cause, it can make ear ringing loud enough to affect a person’s everyday wellbeing and overall quality of life. 

Ear Ringing Can Also Create Anxiety

While there are various theories regarding tinnitus, many researchers and doctors do agree it appears that anxiety can cause tinnitus on its own (even though none have found the specific connection or reason why). It is highly likely that it is a combination of many different factors. For example, anxiety is known to put the body on "high alert" for danger. This could potentially affect a person’s ear health, and if it does, a slightly damaged inner ear may respond with ringing. Of course, there are several possible factors that could be involved.

Also interesting is that many people report their tinnitus causes them extreme anxiety. The constant ear ringing serves as a major disruption in one’s ability to enjoy life, and in some cases, can harm one’s ability to get restful sleep. The stress associated with the way tinnitus can affect a person’s life tends to add up, and contribute to even more anxiety.  

How to Reduce Ear Ringing From Anxiety

Some people have found there are tips and tricks to use in an effort to reduce ear ringing. Some use their thumbs and index fingers, gently massage the ears. It has been reported to be helpful to pull and rub the entire surface, which increases the blood flow to the inner ears. For many, this partially or sometimes, fully relieves the ringing sound.

But because ear ringing can be caused by any number of different factors, the best thing a person can do is see a doctor. Seeking medical attention and asking for recommendations for treatment for the tinnitus is always involved.

If it is deemed the tinnitus is caused by anxiety, then it is most important to learn to control or manage the anxiety. The more a person can control his or her anxiety, the less likely that anxiety will excite the ear ringing.

Article Resources
  1. Han BI, Lee HW, Kim TY, Lim JS, Shin KS. Tinnitus: characteristics, causes, mechanisms, and treatments. J Clin Neurol. 2009 Mar;5(1):11-9.
  2. Goldstein, Barbara A., and A. Shulman. Tinnitus outcome profile and tinnitus control. The international tinnitus journal 9.1 (2003): 26.
  3. House, Patricia R. Personality of the tinnitus patient. Tinnitus CIBA Foundation Symposium. Vol. 85. 1981.
Share Rate this article:
5 Destructive Anxiety Habits
Behavioral Symptoms

5 Destructive Anxiety Habits

We’d like your feedback
Was this article helpful?
Yes No