Approximately 20 percent of the population in San Francisco and other Bay Area communities struggles with tinnitus, a persistent ringing in the ears. The degree to which symptoms occur varies among individuals; for some, it is nothing more than an occasional nuisance, while others are affected so severely their very quality of life suffers. Individuals with the worst cases of tinnitus have a higher risk of committing suicide, according to a new study.
Impacts of Tinnitus on Day-to-Day Life
Tinnitus isn’t a medical disease, but rather, the symptom of another condition. There are many possible causes; some, like impacted earwax or side effects from ototoxic drugs, can be treated effectively, while others – hearing loss, circulatory system disorders, dementia, etc. – have no long-term solution available.
A ringing sensation is most commonly reported, but even the noises people experience can vary. Hissing, whooshing, buzzing, roaring, clicking and whistling sounds are all reported. These symptoms might occur only sporadically, while others experience them constantly. Tinnitus is classified as either subjective, meaning only the individual experiencing it can hear the noise, or objective – an extremely rare situation where another person, usually a doctor, is able to make out the sounds.
Depression is a common side effect of tinnitus, especially for those who are plagued by tinnitus so severe it impacts their daily functioning. The International Tinnitus Journal reported in 2017 that 45 percent of tinnitus sufferers experience anxiety and 33 percent deal end up with major depression.
Suicidal Tendencies Among Tinnitus Sufferers
A study published on May 2 in JAMA (Journal of the American Medical Association) found a link between tinnitus and suicidal tendencies. Researchers from the Stockholm Public Health Cohort (SPHC) in Sweden studied 71,542 patients and found that individuals with severe tinnitus were more likely to attempt suicide.
Specifically, 9 percent of women and 5.5 percent of men with severe tinnitus tried to commit suicide. Overall, those with even milder forms of tinnitus were also more likely to attempt to kill themselves, compared to individuals with no tinnitus-related symptoms. It is believed that the impact of tinnitus on a person’s neurobiological system – the region of the brain responsible for suicidal thoughts – is similar to what is experienced by patients suffering from chronic pain.
Researchers are quick to point out that not all suicide attempts were successful – and those who received treatment for their tinnitus had a reduced risk of attempting suicide, given improvements in their quality of life resulting from medical intervention. Additionally, only about 20 percent of test participants were clinically diagnosed by a physician, so further studies are necessary to understand fully the pathophysiological factors and differences between men and women diagnosed with tinnitus and suicidal tendencies.
If you or a loved one are severely impacted by tinnitus, don’t delay visiting an audiologist in San Francisco. Help is available!