Tinnitus and Suicide Risk

by Barry Keate

A recent clinical study from Sweden delves into the risk of suicide among people who have severe tinnitus. The study compared statistics between men and women and found that the risk is greater in women, likely due to higher levels of anxiety and stress. The study also found that in those who had their tinnitus diagnosed, and possibly treated, by health care professionals, there was no correlation between tinnitus and suicide. (1)

woman sitting against a wall with head down

Author’s Note: I have been aware of this issue for several years but was reluctant to address it because I did not want to cause undue anxiety among the tinnitus community. But there are positive results from this study which we can all learn from so I decided to speak about it. Please read on to learn more about the risk and positive side of this.

The data on tinnitus and suicide risk comes from a large population-based study, the Stockholm Public Health Cohort (SPHC). Among 71,542 participants, 2,404 (3.4%) reported to having attempted suicide. Overall, 16,066 (22.5%) respondents reported having any tinnitus, 1,995 (2.8%) had severe tinnitus, and 1,484 (2.1%) had been diagnosed with tinnitus by a specialist. In all, only 395 (19.8%) of severe cases of tinnitus had been diagnosed by a specialist.

The researchers in the study surmise the association between tinnitus and suicide attempts may be similar to that of chronic pain, because the two conditions have similar neurological bases. Against this background, they determined that severe tinnitus was associated with increased suicide attempts in women (9%), but not in men (5.5%). This suggests that different pathophysiological mechanisms may operate in each sex.

“It is important to say that an increased risk of suicide attempts does not mean an increased risk of suicide events,” said lead researcher Christopher Cederroth, PhD. He added that he isn’t aware of any completed suicides related to tinnitus. “Our results reflect more the sex-specific psychological impact of tinnitus rather than the risk of committing suicide,” he said.

On the plus side, Cederroth said that the risk for suicide isn’t significant for people who have had their tinnitus diagnosed and treated. “Medical attention by a specialist may help decrease tinnitus-related distress,” he said. “Even though there are currently no treatments to cure tinnitus, seeing a specialist may help decrease the distress and diminish the risk of suicide attempts.”

Darius Kohan, MD was asked to review the study. Dr. Kohan is director or otology/neurotology at Lennox Hill Hospital and the Manhattan Eye, Ear and Throat Hospital in New York City. He said that even though the cause of many tinnitus cases isn’t known, ways to help people cope with the condition are available.

“Tinnitus can be very severe and disabling, Dr. Kohan said, noting that it’s a very common condition, affecting about 20% of the population. “It’s old age and degeneration of the blood supply to the inner ear, plus hearing loss as the nerve cells die off.”

Treatment usually involves helping people cope with the condition, Kohan said. Treatments can include dietary changes and also taking supplements such as Ginkgo biloba and B vitamins.

Arches Tinnitus Formulas Combo Pack

Arches Tinnitus Combo Pack

We have heard this before from Dr. Kohan. He gave a statement to Medco Forum a few years ago regarding the treatment of his tinnitus patients with Arches Tinnitus Formulas. He said, when applied to those patients with hearing loss-related tinnitus, “Arches Tinnitus Formula doesn’t work for everybody, but works for about 75% to 80% of those patients. Arches Tinnitus Formula is a safe and benign treatment that we initiate for patients.” (2)

In addition, patients can use various devices to provide a background sound to mask the ringing in their ears. These can include sound generators, an air conditioner, or even TV, Kohan said. This can be especially effective at night when tinnitus can be at its worst.

Other treatments for tinnitus that may work are biofeedback, acupuncture and Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, Kohan said. Patients can be taught to ignore the sound.

The important thing, especially for those who have severe tinnitus, is to seek diagnosis and treatment from an Ear, Nose & Throat specialist. Also investigate other avenues of reducing tinnitus. The very act of reaching out to the hearing health community will help reduce the anxiety, stress and isolation from which so many people with tinnitus suffer. This can help reduce the correlation between tinnitus and suicide risk.

If you feel like you are in desperate need, please seek professional help or call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at: 1-800-273-8255

References:

1 – Lugo A, Trpchevska N, et al. Sex-Specific Association of Tinnitus with Suicide Attempts. JAMA Otolarygol Head Neck Surg. Published online May 2, 2019.

2 – Growing Number of Otolaryngologists Refer Their patients to Arches Tinnitus Formulas. Medco Forum. Volume 19, Issue 35: September 2012.