If you suspect your hearing has gotten worse, or if you have recently been diagnosed with hearing loss, you may be feeling anxious. Anxiety, which is a persistent heightened state of alert, is normal with any stressful situation, including those related to your health and wellbeing. However, when normal anxiety becomes long-lasting and invasive, it becomes a disorder in and of itself. Over the years, research has shown that hearing loss and anxiety are connected. What is that connection?
Types of Anxiety
Mental health professionals generally distinguish between five types of anxiety:
- Generalized anxiety disorder
- Post-traumatic stress disorder
- Obsessive-compulsive disorder
- Panic disorder
- Social anxiety disorder
Hearing loss may be related to various types of anxiety. For example, if you are involved in an accident or injury that leads to sudden hearing loss, you may experience post-traumatic stress disorder. On the other hand, if you have hearing loss but are constantly looking for symptoms of dementia, you may have generalized anxiety disorder.
In addition to causing constant “what if” worries, anxiety can also cause physical symptoms. These may include nausea, muscle aches, dizziness, difficulty concentrating, insomnia, or a feeling of dread. If anxious thoughts and physical symptoms are persistent and interfere with your quality of life, it may be time to seek professional help.
The Link between Hearing Loss and Anxiety
If you have hearing loss, you may feel that you have a lot to worry about. What if you don’t hear something important? What if you can’t hear someone talking at dinner? What if you miss the punchline to a joke? What if your hearing aid batteries die? What if you misunderstand someone and embarrass yourself? These “what if” scenarios could go on and on.
Research supports the link between hearing loss and anxiety. In one study of nearly 4,000 French people aged 65 and older that was conducted over a 12-year period, researchers found that people diagnosed with hearing loss at the beginning of the study had a greater likelihood of developing anxiety symptoms over time. Another study of more than 1,700 adults aged 76 to 85 found that having mild hearing loss resulted in a 32 percent higher risk of reporting anxiety. For those with moderate or higher hearing loss, the risk of anxiety increased to 59 percent.
The connection between hearing loss and anxiety seems to go the other way, too. One study of more than 10,500 adults in Taiwan found that those with an anxiety disorder had a greater risk of sudden hearing loss. In the French study mentioned above, participants who reported generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) but not hearing loss at the beginning of the study were more likely to develop hearing loss than those without GAD.
Worry about Hearing Loss vs. Social Anxiety
If you have hearing loss, you may feel anxious about social situations. How can you tell whether you have social anxiety or you’re simply worried about social interactions?
In general, people with social anxiety feel anxious about any situation in which they might be negatively judged, whether it’s a date, job interview, party, small talk, or group lunch. If you have hearing loss, you may also feel anxious about social situations, especially if you are worried about not being able to hear, about mishearing other people, or about feeling left out. If you can solve your worries by using a hearing aid, you probably don’t have social anxiety. If you feel anxious about social situations but still enjoy being around people, your social anxiety may be mild. If you have extreme social anxiety, simply sitting near other people could make you anxious.
Research has shown that hearing loss and anxiety are connected, although further research remains to be done to explore exactly how these two conditions are linked. Fortunately, anxiety is highly treatable. If you believe that you have anxiety—whether or not you think it’s related to hearing loss—you can seek help from a medical doctor, psychiatrist, or psychologist. Of course, hearing aids are available to treat hearing loss as well, which may alleviate some of your anxious thinking.
To learn more about the link between hearing loss and anxiety, we welcome you to contact our office today. We are happy to provide the information you need.