Tinnitus and suicide: why it’s happening, how to stop it

Contributed by | Friday, October 24th, 2014

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The posts on the Action on Hearing Loss’ community bulletin board about tinnitus and suicide are heartbreaking. A post from a sister who lost her brother to suicide after he felt he could no longer live with his condition. Another from a 30-year tinnitus patient who says he can no longer sleep and likens the relentless noise he hears to be “so loud my head is splitting constantly.”

According to the American Tinnitus Association, tinnitus is the medical term for the perception of sound in one or both ears when no external noise is present. An estimated 50 million Americans have tinnitus in one or both ears 16 million have had symptoms severe enough to see a doctor or hearing healthcare professional and 2 million have it so severely it’s debilitating. Tinnitus is currently the number one service disability for veterans from all periods of service.

talking about tinnitus
Tinnitus can feel like a debilitating condition if
you don't find relief. In addition to hearing aids,
sometimes talking to someone can provide help.

“My tinnitus and hyperacusive patients are desperate when they come in,” Allen Rohe, Au.D., FAAA, of Tri-City Audiology in Tempe, Arizona, said. “It’s extremely challenging to sit down with that patient and give them some level of reassurance we’ll get them to a better place in life.”

While the exact causes of tinnitus are not known, there are several sources known to trigger or worsen tinnitus. Those include excessive exposure to loud noise, head and neck trauma, certain disorders such as Meniere’s disease, Lyme disease and fibromyalgia, tumors, wax buildup, jaw misalignment, cardiovascular disease, and medications that are harmful to hearing health

Dr. Rohe said he sees his average tinnitus patient for one to two years using tinnitus retraining therapy he learned from various experts from around the world.  One of his favorite success stories involves a patient who was contemplating suicide after searching unsuccessfully for solutions for quite some time. After a year of retraining therapy, he reported moments of complete silence, which completely changed his life.

Not much research has been conducted on the relationship between tinnitus and suicide. In Volume 12, Number 10 November/December 2001 issue of the Journal of the American Academy of Audiology, Gary P. Jacobson and Devin L. McCaslin published their investigation into this relationship. They queried MEDLINE and HealthStar databases for articles containing the terms “tinnitus” and “suicide” which yielded 12 articles between 1966 and 2001. They determined that the majority of tinnitus patients who committed suicide also had “preexisting psychiatric conditions” such as depression which amplified their tinnitus. They believe audiologists and otologist should be aware of the increased risk of suicide among tinnitus patients who are clinically depressed.

Tips for tinnitus sufferers:

If you have tinnitus, see an audiologist or Ear, Nose and Throat (ENT) physician who specializes in the diagnosis and treatment of tinnitus. Once they discover the source or trigger for your tinnitus, they can work with you to develop the best plan to manage it. Although there currently is no cure for the condition, a combination of hearing aids, counseling, sound therapy and coping techniques may be effective in controlling your symptoms.

Next, take care of yourself. Find ways to reduce stress, protect your hearing from additional damage from noise exposure, and resolve to be patient with any treatment program you are prescribed.

Be positive. Try not to blame yourself for the diagnosis, be proactive with your treatment, and maintain a positive outlook for managing your condition. If you find this difficult, consider consulting with a psychiatrist who specializes in tinnitus patients who can help you learn effective coping skills.

Find the support you need. Join a support group with people who understand what you’re dealing with. Educate yourself, as well as your family and friends, about your specific condition and its triggers. Surround yourself with supportive people who will help you cope.

“When we finally climb that hill and head down the other side, you can see the look on their faces,” Dr. Rohe said of the tinnitus patients who find relief with his retraining therapy. “Changes are starting to happen and they’re getting their lives back.”

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