Exploring how Tinnitus Affects People at an Emotional Level

Exploring how Tinnitus Affects People at an Emotional Level

Millions of people in the United States suffer from tinnitus at some points in their lives. Tinnitus is the sensation of hearing a buzzing, ringing, or hissing sound in your ears without the presence of any external stimuli. Research suggests that people with tinnitus tend to have a different emotional processing system than those with regular hearing. Tinnitus was found to be linked with higher levels of stress, irritability, and even more severe psychological problems like anxiety and depression.

A recent research by Fatima Husain at the University of Illinois explored the way in which tinnitus influences the capacity of the brain to process emotions. Brain scans were evaluated via functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to explore this phenomenon. The participants were divided into three groups which included those with regular hearing, those with tinnitus, and those with hearing loss. Results found that participants with regular hearing and tinnitus both had faster responses to sounds that invoke emotional responses than neutral sound cues. However, those with hearing loss had the same overall response time to all the varying types of sound.

Compared to the regular hearing group, the group with tinnitus had slower reaction times overall. Emotional processing occurs in the area of the brain known as the amygdala. Activity in this particular region of the brain appeared to be lower for those with tinnitus and hearing loss, compared to those with regular hearing. Other areas of the brain appeared to be more stimulated due to emotion in those with tinnitus, compared to those with regular hearing.

The results seem to conclude that those with tinnitus tend to reroute their emotional activity to other areas of the brain; this helps to divide the strain placed on the amygdala due to constant exposure to sound. Ultimately, the stimulation of the amygdala is decreased in those with tinnitus than those who have normal hearing.

The research study conducted above provides insights into the way the brain processes emotion in those with tinnitus. This knowledge can aid medical professionals to gain more information about ways in which they can treat tinnitus. As a result, new insights can be developed, which can help improve the daily functioning of those with tinnitus.