The Unexamined Life

What’s Tinnitus? Ear Condition Shockingly Linked To Suicide Attempts

An unstoppable ringing, buzzing or hissing sensation felt in the ears in the absence of a visible source can make people want to kill themselves, a new study has found.The noise disturbance called tinnitus is not a separate condition to be treated by itself, rather it’s symptomatic of other conditions like hearing loss, dementia and circulatory system disorders.

Hearing loss is induced after the cochlea, a part of the inner ear, is exposed to loud sounds in concerts, bomb blasts and construction noise. If the sound does not die away quickly, then tinnitus must be treated by a doctor. The decibel ranges from a low pitch, soft roaring sounds to high squeals.

Humming, clicking and roaring sounds can be heard in the ear intermittently or throughout the day in one or both ears, depending on the types of tinnitus identified by doctors. Subjective tinnitus occurs when there is damage in the auditory nerves and its pathways and can be heard by the patient only. Objective tinnitus is a rare condition caused by muscle contractions or blood vessel problems inside the ear and when the doctor can hear the sound during medical examination.

Depression occurs as a result of noises heard in the ear as it affects normal day-to-day functioning due to being unable to maintain relationships and decreasing awareness of one’s surroundings. A study published in The International Tinnitus Journal in 2017 reviewed 15 studies identified in PubMed, Ovid, and Cochrane said that major depression affected 33 percent of patients with tinnitus and anxiety affected 45 percent of patients with tinnitus.

New study links suicide to tinnitus

A study published in Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) on May 2 went a step ahead and established the link between tinnitus and suicidal tendencies. Out of the 71,542 patients assessed from a sample population based in Sweden taken from the Stockholm Public Health Cohort (SPHC), the study found that severe tinnitus was a factor in suicide attempts, more so in women than men

Among the participants, 9 percent of women with severe tinnitus attempted to commit suicide, while comparitively 5.5 percent of men with severe tinnitus attempted suicide. Gender differences aside, just the very presence of tinnitus was associated with suicide attempts along with those participants with severe tinnitus. The data was compared to those without any symptom related tinnitus to make the conclusion on tinnitus and suicidal thought connection.  

The researchers noted that attempting suicide does not neccesarily lead to ending one's life. On the bright side, the data suggested that individuals who received treatment for tinnitus were at a reduced risk of attempting suicide since the medical intervention improved their quality of life. The researchers pointed out that chronic pain and tinnitus were similar in terms of the impact on the neurobilogical system, especially with suicidal thoughts. 

The limitation of the study is that only one fifth of the participants were diagnosed by a clinician. Further research needs to be conducted on the pathophysiological factors differentiating men and women diagnosed with tinnitus to make clear inferences on how it affects people based on gender.