» The Effects of Stress on Our Hearing

The Effects of Stress on Our Hearing

Stress levels in the general population have been increasing steadily over several years. In recent years, the Covid-19 Pandemic, natural disasters suggesting global climate change, and the war between Russia and Ukraine has significantly elevated stress levels in adults around the world.

Stress can be defined as our psychological and physiological reaction to a condition or an event that is considered a threat. Elevated or prolonged levels of stress can impact our memory, immunity, mental health, digestion and even our hearing.

 

The Stress-Effect on Hearing:

The intricate network of blood vessels and nerves that supply the inner ear is particularly susceptible to the effects of stress. Prolonged or intense periods of stress can disrupt our finely tuned and delicately balanced auditory system in the following ways:

Cortisol and the Inner Ear: Elevated levels of cortisol, commonly known as the “stress hormone” can compromise adequate blood flow to the inner ear. Reduced blood supply to the inner ear can deprive the delicate hair cells in the cochlea of oxygen and nutrients needed for optimal functioning and can potentially lead to hearing problems.

Inflammation and Tinnitus: Stress triggers inflammatory responses throughout the entire body, and the inner ear is no exception. Inflammation in the auditory system can result in tinnitus – the perception of sound in the ears or in the head in the absence of an actual sound. The persistent ringing, buzzing, or hissing sounds in the ears that characterize tinnitus can be worsened or even triggered by increased stress levels.

Central Auditory Processing: Stress can also impact the brain’s ability to interpret, process, and understand auditory information efficiently. This interference can manifest as difficulties in understanding speech in quiet or in noise, remembering auditory information, localizing sounds, or processing complex auditory stimuli.

 

The Stress-Hearing Negative Feedback Loop:

Communication challenges, social isolation, anxiety, listening fatigue and feelings of frustration creates increased levels of stress which can in turn, create a further negative impact on auditory health. This cycle of stress and hearing difficulties is known as a negative feedback loop. For more information on the impact of hearing loss on mental well-being check out our mental health blog.

 

Managing Stress for Auditory Wellness:

Audiologists are trained in hearing loss prevention, hearing loss diagnosis, and hearing loss treatment and rehabilitation. Part of our training includes educating patients on the importance of maintaining healthy lifestyles which includes stress management. The following are some stress-management strategies for improving auditory wellness:

  1. Mindfulness and Relaxation Techniques: Encouraging patients to practice mindfulness, meditation, and deep-breathing exercises can help regulate stress levels and promote overall well-being.
  2. Physical Exercise: Regular physical activity has been shown to reduce stress and improve blood circulation, benefiting the health of the inner ear.
  3. Hearing Protection: In stressful environments or during activities that may expose individuals to loud sounds, the use of hearing protection can safeguard the auditory system.

 

Conclusion:

My role as an audiologist extends beyond the diagnosis and treatment of hearing issues and encompasses a holistic understanding of all factors that may impact our ability to hear. Recognizing the effects of elevated or prolonged levels of stress on our hearing and seeking professional help from a registered audiologist is the first step.

If you or a loved one are having difficulty understanding conversation in quiet or in noise or are experiencing ringing in the ears, schedule an appointment today.

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Blog Author

Lyndsay Bozec

REGISTERED AUDIOLOGIST, NSCASLP

Lyndsay is a passionate advocate for hearing health awareness and hearing preservation. Over the years she has delivered various hearing health presentations and hearing aid workshops for caregiver workshops across HRM.

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