dreamstime_s_38898925_cropPeople with tinnitus often report depression, anxiety, stress, irritability, and other emotional problems that diminish their quality of life, but until now, no-one has really explored the connection between tinnitus and emotions.

Now researchers at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign have used functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to show how people with tinnitus have different brain responses to emotional sounds than those with either hearing loss or normal hearing.

Tinnitus and Your Emotions

Researchers recruited three groups of subjects: one that had normal hearing, one that had hearing loss, and , one that had both hearing loss and tinnitus. They exposed these people to three types of sounds: sounds with a negative emotional content (for example, a woman screaming), sounds with a neutral emotional content (a water bottle being opened), and sounds with a positive emotional content (such as a baby laughing). Researchers thought that people with tinnitus would show an elevated emotional response because the emotional centers of their brain would be irritated by the constant bombardment of sound.

However, it turned out that it was the opposite, as if people with tinnitus have fatigued the primary center for emotional processing in the brain, the amygdala. They had less response in the amygdala than people with either normal hearing or just hearing loss. To compensate for this dampened response in the amygdala, the brain had rewired itself to use other parts of the brain to handle some of the emotional response.

Although researchers have identified this rewiring of the brain, they haven’t yet identified how these observed functional changes in the brain may influence observed emotional impacts such as irritability or depression. We also don’t know whether the brain can rewire itself back to its original configuration if tinnitus is treated, or how long it takes for the brain to develop this rewired emotional response.

We do know, though, that many people with tinnitus suffer the condition because TMJ is putting pressure on their hearing system. And we know that treating TMJ can reduce or even eliminate tinnitus in these sufferers.

If you think your tinnitus may be related to TMJ, please call (303) 691-0267 for an appointment with a Denver TMJ dentist at the TMJ Therapy & Sleep Center of Colorado.