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Unseen Suffering: Addressing Mental Distress with Tinnitus

Tinnitus affects more than 20% of Americans across the country, ranging from a mild yet annoying ringing to a debilitating and life-altering condition. Though the bothersome buzzing can reduce the quality of life of those suffering from tinnitus on its own, there is another consequence of tinnitus that often does not get the attention it deserves. Mental distress caused by tinnitus is a serious and dangerous complication, putting a person’s mental health in a precarious position and affecting those from all walks of life. William Shatner, famous actor and star of the Star-Trek TV series, explains in an editorial for the American Tinnitus Association, “Regardless of the characters I portray on TV and on the big screen, my tinnitus once buried me in a negative place where many of you are now – or have been. Believe me when I say, “I’ve been there.” Even with high-profile advocates focusing on mental health associated with Tinnitus, this mental distress is still troublingly absent from many doctor’s offices.

Depression, Anxiety, and Isolation

Like hearing loss, Tinnitus can result in serious mental distress during your day to day activities. Anxiety, depression, and behavior disorders are believed to affect over three-quarters of people living with severe tinnitus, prompting those struggling to isolate themselves, lose sleep, and even suffer from PTSD-like symptoms.
We have all been asked if we had “woken up on the wrong side of the bed.” before, but for those with tinnitus, this expression is sometimes a matter of fact. Insomnia is common with tinnitus, creating a vicious cycle in which sleeping becomes more difficult the more you worry about your tinnitus. Surveys have linked this cycle to irritability, anger, and externalized aggressive behavior.

Self-Harm and Suicide

Unfortunately, tinnitus may lead to even more horrifying outcomes. Due to mental distress, tinnitus has been linked to higher rates of self-harm and suicidal ideation. “It needs to be something audiologists aren’t afraid of. Mental health is not a taboo subject,” said Melissa Wikoff, AuD, for The Hearing Journal, “Sometimes we think the practice of audiology is not life or death. But sometimes with tinnitus, it really can be.”
A 2019 study analyzing the connection between suicide, tinnitus, and parental mental illness had come to a similar conclusion, recommending that hearing health professionals should screen for such ideations in patients, “especially for those with symptoms of depression and a childhood history of parental mental illness.”

Don’t Keep Hidden Distress Hidden For Long

Without receiving the proper help, tinnitus can quickly overwhelm your mental health. The fact that it isn’t widely spoken about is a mistake on the part of the healthcare community, and not one you should suffer from. If you are struggling with mental distress brought on by tinnitus, there is help for you. Cognitive-behavioral therapy, medication such as anti-depressants, and sound therapy are all treatment options that can help tame your tinnitus. As hearing professionals, we all must do better to raise awareness about the very real, yet unseen, aspects of tinnitus.

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How Hearing Loss in Children Affects School Attendance

Think back to your childhood school days. Did you love going to school, or did you attempt to manufacture excuses that would allow you to stay home from school?
Either way, it is likely that you attended school more days than not. And whether you enjoyed school or not, your early education played a big role in your future educational success and social life, as well as your success in a career.
Recently, researchers in Australia discovered one factor that can cause students to miss more school and thus affect their education: hearing loss. Researchers conducted the study in Northern Territory (NT) of Australia and specifically focused on the Year One school attendance of Aboriginal children.
In the study, researchers compared Year One attendance among Aboriginal children with normal hearing to that of the children with preventable hearing impairment. The study considered both unilateral hearing loss as well as bilateral hearing impairment. More than a third (36.3 percent) of the children surveyed had bilateral hearing loss, while over half (55.1 percent) had either unilateral or bilateral hearing loss.
Researchers found that no matter the type or severity of hearing loss, the children with impaired hearing attended fewer school days than their peers with normal hearing. As noted, this study focused on children with preventable hearing loss. The most common cause of hearing loss among these children is otitis media or an infection of the middle ear.
As part of their conclusions from the study, the researchers suggest “regular surveillance” of the children, both regarding the infection and their hearing ability. They recommend screening for hearing loss, and perhaps infection as well, during early childhood when the children enter preschool and their first year of full-time education. The study particularly recommended these measures for Aboriginal children who live in more remote areas, such as those studied in NT.
While this study was conducted in Australia and focused on the case of Aboriginal children, the findings and conclusions can be applied to children worldwide. Otitis media and other illnesses that result in preventable hearing loss are not isolated to NT. It can also be beneficial for children to be screened for hearing loss in early childhood and in school in order to identify hearing loss at an early stage and provide treatment at the earliest time possible.
By identifying and treating hearing loss, as well as preventing hearing loss when possible, these children will have a greater opportunity for success in school, education, their social lives, and their careers. As the study found that students with normal hearing were less likely to miss school days, they were present for more learning. School sets up a child for success, and even early education is important and formative.
If you believe that your child may be suffering from hearing loss, we encourage you to contact our hearing practice today. We are here to care for you and your family.