According to brain-imaging scans of people with different hearing conditions, people with tinnitus respond less to emotionally stimulating sounds. Researchers postulate that the effort put into tuning out tinnitus leads them to tune out other emotional stimuli as well.
Tinnitus and Your Emotions
Previous research has linked tinnitus with a number of emotional conditions, including anxiety, stress, irritability, and depression. The speculation was that constant exposure to an uncontrollable noise (including its impact on sleep) led to reduced quality of life, which then led to emotional effects (and current sufferers are prepared to speak to tinnitus’ impact on quality of life).
However, people had not explored how the link occurred, whether it involved the amygdala and other emotion-processing areas of the brain, until researchers from the University of Illinois’ Urbana-Champaign campus used functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to look at how the brains of people with tinnitus processed emotion.
Researchers took three groups of people, one with hearing loss and tinnitus, one with just hearing loss, and one with normal hearing, and exposed them to positive, negative, and neutral sounds while undergoing fMRI scans. Researchers postulated that emotional responses in the tinnitus group would be amplified because of their irritating constant noises, but it turned out that it was the opposite. People with tinnitus had dampened response in the primary area of emotional processing, the amygdala. This was accompanied by increased activity in other parts of the brain.
Researchers speculate that both are responses to the constant bombardment of sound. Under the onslaught of tinnitus, the amygdala becomes tired of responding to sounds and isn’t stimulated by emotional sounds. To try to compensate, the brain compensates by activating other parts of the brain. How this impacts the observed emotional impacts, such as irritability and depression, isn’t known yet.
We do know, though, that for some people, tinnitus can be dramatically reduced or even eliminated. If your tinnitus is associated with TMJ, we can help.
For more information, please call 803-781-9090 for an appointment with a Columbia, SC TMJ dentist at Smile Columbia Dentistry today.