Ringing ears is a common symptom of a variety of conditions. Some people get it during colds. Others get it after leaving a loud music theater. Others seem to get it for no reason at all. It's called "tinnitus," and it's an unusual condition that can be caused by a host of different factors, most of which are not 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 it forces them to see a doctor.
There are many people that seem to experience this ear ringing during periods of intense anxiety. But often this doesn't feel like it makes sense. What is the relationship of anxiety and ringing in the ears?
Ringing Ears = Anxiety?
Ringing ears is rarely dangerous. It may be a sign of ear infection, and there are some conditions that can cause tinnitus that warrant medical attention. But often this noise is caused by nothing more than stress and anxiety.
The best way to learn more about how ringing ears affects you is to take my free 7 minute anxiety test and fill out your symptoms.
Causes of Ringing Ears
If your ringing ears are becoming a major issue, see a doctor. Anxiety rarely causes a persistent, long term ear ringing. There are ways that anxiety can contribute to chronic tinnitus, which we'll explain in a moment, but seeking out medical attention can help.
However, the best way to know is to eliminate your anxiety. Take my free anxiety test to find out more.
The reality is that doctors are still not entirely clear what causes tinnitus. There are many different theories that have to do with the activation of the follicles within the ear that cause noise, including the way they're damaged and the energy and blood flow received from the brain. Tinnitus is especially common with both aging and noise related hearing loss, although ear infections, medication side effects, and a few rare neurological problems can contribute to ringing ears as well.
How Ringing Ears is Caused By Anxiety
Very often no underlying cause is found for tinnitus, and that complicates the discovery of the relationship between ear ringing and anxiety. Doctors and researchers are aware that anxiety and stress have a relationship to ringing ears, but what that relationship is is complicated by the fact that many people can develop tinnitus for no known reason at all.
Generally, most ringing caused by anxiety is temporary. It tends to occur at the height of a panic attack and then slowly fades 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 ear fullness during anxiety attacks, which does indicate that something within the ear changes.
There are several other related theories as well, and it's likely that all of these play a role in anxiety ear ringing:
Anxiety causes two very problematic issues that can potentially lead to subjective tinnitus. The first is that anxiety can cause an issue known as "hypersensitivity," which is when you are extremely aware (hyper-aware) of every single pain, feeling, or sensation in your body. It's a common problem for those with anxiety attacks and may affect anyone with anxiety.
The second problem is that anxiety can make it difficult to ignore something that causes you stress. Combined, it's possible that you had a very mild, almost imperceptible tinnitus, but your anxiety made you overly sensitive to it and your anxiety keeps you from ignoring it. Many researchers state that many of those living with ear ringing don't hear it at all, because it's not loud enough and the body adjusts to ignore it. Those with anxiety may have a harder time adjusting.
Pre-Existing Ear Ringing
A very similar problem occurs if you already had ear ringing but were able to ignore it. Research has found that stress is an ear ringing "trigger," in that it can actually make the ringing louder than it was before.
How or why is still not clear. It's likely that anxiety and adrenaline cause a change in blood flow that ends up exciting whatever was causing your tinnitus further. Regardless of the cause, it can make ear ringing loud enough that some people find it unbearable.
Ear Ringing Can Also Create Anxiety
Those are simply two of the additional theories. Many researchers and doctors do agree that it appears that anxiety can cause tinnitus on its own, but none have yet found the connection. It's 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. Perhaps that affects hearing, and when it does, a slightly damaged inner ear may respond with ringing. There are several possible factors involved.
What is also interesting however is that many people report that their tinnitus causes them extreme anxiety. The constant ear ringing provides a massive disruption of their ability to enjoy life, and in some cases can harm their ability to get sleep. That level of stress can add up, and if you already have anxiety in your life it can cause it to become much worse.
How to Reduce Ear Ringing From Anxiety
Some people have found that there is a little trick to reduce ear ringing. Using your thumbs and index fingers, gently massage your ears. Pull and rub the entire surface, increasing the blood flow to your inner ears. For many, this partially or fully relieves some of the ringing sound.
But because ear ringing can be caused by any number of different issues, the best thing you can do is see a doctor. See if they have any recommendations for treatment based on their belief over the causes of your ear ringing.
Assuming your tinnitus is caused by anxiety, however, then the best thing you can do is learn to control your anxiety from getting out of hand. The more you control anxiety, the less likely you'll be to excite those nerves.
I've helped thousands of people stop their anxiety forever. I start them off with my anxiety test, which I designed specifically to better understand your symptoms and how they affect you. Take the test now and find out what you can do to cure your anxiety forever.
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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.
Goldstein, Barbara A., and A. Shulman. Tinnitus outcome profile and tinnitus control. The international tinnitus journal 9.1 (2003): 26.
House, Patricia R. [Personality of the tinnitus patient](http://books.google.com/books?hl=en&lr=&id=9ST8wB_wljcC&oi=fnd&pg=PA193& dq=tinnitus+stress&ots=IUOXovC11q&sig=wxhYkYbv9vNhJVAgt4tNIcpX4vA#v=onepage&q=tinnitus%20stress&f=false). Tinnitus CIBA Foundation Symposium. Vol. 85. 1981.
Author: Micah Abraham, BSc Psychology, last updated Sep 28, 2017.