What do stress and the health of our hearing have in common?

More and more people are under stress in their everyday school, training or professional life: they can no longer learn properly or can only manage their work with great psychophysical effort. What many do not want to know or admit: Stress has an effect on ear health. The release of the stress hormone cortisol can lead to damage in the auditory system and thus to tinnitus. For this reason, the German Tinnitus Foundation Charité has been supporting research on tinnitus and stress for years.

Focus: Research

Current results from animal studies, including a research project on the interaction of tinnitus and stress funded by the German Tinnitus Foundation Charité, show that mitochondrial dysfunctions - i.e. functional disorders in the "power stations" of the cells - can lead to energy loss, exhaustion and stress as well as to tinnitus. The scientists also assume that the duration and intensity of stress-related hearing disorders and changes in the auditory system could depend on the genotype of the animals, for which special preventive measures would then have to be developed. Further studies will follow.

Diagnosis and treatment strategies

The auditory character of tinnitus induces those affected to seek help from ENT doctors. Here, the first goal of the therapist is to determine the cause of the tinnitus and to measure its audiological characteristics. The second goal is to assess tinnitus-induced stress, evaluate its severity and then initiate further therapies.

Preventing cost-intensive medical interventions

Recent studies show that stress, anxiety and depression are the most common and cost-intensive causes for disablement: According to these studies, 42% of working adults suffer from depression and 40% from anxiety disorders, while only 8% have no psychological complaints. It is also alarming that those affected are 1.8 times more likely to be absent due to illness than those not affected - as a result, companies suffer billions due to health-related downtimes.

Companies, but also schools, universities and training institutions are called upon to counteract stress preventively - in order to protect their pupils and employees.  “Return-to-work"-programs can help those affected return to work. Selected interviews published on our website show what effects tinnitus can have on the quality of life and performance of each individual. In cases of hardship, about 3-5% of patients who were unable to work due to their tinnitus returned to work after a behavioural therapy intervention (comparable to 25 sessions of intensive therapy). In the long run, this would also reduce the costs of illness-related absenteeism.

Sources:

  • Szczepek, Agnieszka, Prof. Dr. Mazurek, Birgit (2017): Tinnitus and Stress, An Interdisciplinary Companion for Healthcare Professionals, Springer International Publishing (Verlag)
  • Clark, D. M. (2011). Implementing NICE guidelines for the psychological treatment of depression and anxiety disorders: the IAPT experience. International review of psychiatry, 23(4), 318-327
  • Layard R., Clark D.M., Knapp M., Mayraz G. Cost-benefit analysis of psychological therapy. National Institute Economic Review. 2007; 202:90-98
  • Bhatt, J. M., Bhattacharyya, N., & Lin, H. W. (2017). Relationships between tinnitus and the prevalence of anxiety and depression. The Laryngoscope, 127(2), 466-469.
  • Wesson, M., & Gould, M. (2010). Can a 'return-to-work'-agenda fit within the theory and practice of CBT for depression and anxiety disorders? The Cognitive Behaviour Therapist, 3(1), 27-42.
  • Chiles, J. A., Lambert, M. J., & Hatch, A. L. (1999). The impact of psychological interventions on medical cost offset: A meta‐analytic review. Clinical Psychology: Science and Practice, 6(2), 204-220. in: Layard, R. (2015). A New Priority for Mental Health. London: London School of Economics.