Contributed by Debbie Clason, staff writer, Healthy Hearing
Many Americans cope with high levels of stress, which is linked to a variety of health problems. Long-term, the physical changes from chronic stress can even trigger hearing loss.
What is stress, exactly?
Believe it or not, stress has a beneficial place in your life. In fact, you might say the survival of any species depends a great deal on how it responds to environmental stressors. Also known as the “fight or flight” response, stress can tell you when to run from a dangerous situation or give you the extra shot of adrenaline you need to stand your ground. Stress becomes unhealthy when the body experiences it on a daily basis. Constantly worrying about the job, the kids, finances or any number of societal issues can cause chronic stress. And that’s when it takes its toll on the body.
According to the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), long-term stress is harmful to your health. During acute stress, adrenaline increases to make you breathe faster and divert oxygen to your muscles so you can take action. Long term, this hormone suppress your immune, digestive, sleep and reproductive systems.
How chronic stress causes hearing loss
When you are constantly stressed, the body doesn’t receive a clear signal to return to normal like it does when the stress is acute or traumatic. That can lead to serious health problems such as heart disease, high blood pressure, diabetes and other illnesses. Just about anything that restricts your circulation—heart disease, diabetes, smoking—is going to negatively impact your hearing. That’s primarily because the small sensory hairs of the inner ear depend on good circulation to perform their delicate task of translating the noise your outer ears collect into electrical impulses for the brain to interpret as recognizable sound. Each of these inner ear sensors are responsible for translating specific frequencies, so when they are damaged or die, the ability to send that message is affected, too. Hearing loss that occurs as a result of damage to these sensory hair cells is known as sensorineural hearing loss.
Poor circulation can also cause pulsatile tinnitus, a condition sufferers commonly describe as a rhythmic ear noise that pulsates, beats or pumps in time with the heartbeat. Underlying causes of pulsatile tinnitus include high blood pressure, which stress can exacerbate.
How to cope with stress
Although sensorineural hearing loss isn’t reversible in most cases, reducing the amount of stress in your life can protect your hearing from loss due to poor circulation. The American Psychological Association lists these five tips for reducing stress:
- Take a break. Even 20 minutes away from the cause of your stress can give you perspective and make you feel less overwhelmed.
- Exercise. Just 20 minutes each day provides health benefits for both your body and mind.
- Smile and laugh. Moving those facial muscles in particular eases tension and sends a corresponding happy signal to the brain.
- Get social support. Talk to someone who can understand what you’re going through and provide positive feedback.
- Meditate. Like exercise, meditation for hearing loss helps the mind and body relax and focus.
If those methods aren’t helping, seeking mental health care is recommended.
Your hearing healthcare professional can help
Whether you feel stressed out or not, if you’re not hearing as well as you used to, make an appointment to see a hearing healthcare professional. One of the very first things they will do is get to know your personal hearing health and medical history, along with any concerns you may have. After your hearing health history is complete, they will administer a non-invasive hearing evaluation to determine whether or not you have hearing loss. Based on your history and the results of your hearing evaluation, you’ll work together to create a customized treatment plan based on your budget, lifestyle and hearing expectations.