Tinnitus and Stress

Many people who suffer from tinnitus believe that stress is the cause. And first studies indicate that there is indeed a connection. What is lacking is scientific proof.

The project “Influence of emotional stress on auditory functions” (for short: “Tinnitus and Stress”) is contributing to remedying this lack. It draws on research done by the molecular biology research laboratory of the ENT Clinic and the Tinnitus Center Charité.

It is established that chronic stress can in general induce and exacerbate changes to the auditory system. They include above all the hypersensitization of auditory perception (hyperacusis), tinnitus, and Menière's disease, a disorder of the inner ear that leads to attacks of rotatory vertigo, one-sided hearing loss, and ringing in the ears.

But how does stress arise? As a rule it develops when people cannot cope with the growing and/or unexpected demands of their environment. They live under constant emotional pressure. The most frequent reaction is to deny any physical risk in an effort to enhance one's own achievement potential and staying power.

The physical effects of stress include increased production of the stress hormone cortisol. This raises the blood sugar level (gluconeogenesis) and intensifies the breakdown of stored fat (lipolysis), as well as protein breakdown (proteolysis), making more energy available. Higher blood pressure, a high pulse rate, and constipation are the result. But the immune system also suffers. Many patients complain of sleeplessness and a lack of appetite, psychomotor disturbances, and growing feelings of anxiety.

According to Professor Birgit Mazurek, “All these stress-induced mental changes can also influence auditory phenomena, leading, for example to the development of tinnitus or the exacerbation of an existing tinnitus. In the ear, cortisol causes a massive release of glutamate into the neurons. This ultimately leads to a greater accumulation of calcium, which damages auditory sensory cells and nerve cells in the ear.”

With the “Stress and Tinnitus” project, the Foundation seeks to promote research in this field to develop better individual therapeutic approaches for patients with tinnitus and hyperacusis.

The HEINZ AND HEIDE DÜRR FOUNDATION is contributing € 150,000 over a period of three years to fund the research project.