Pregnancy is a remarkable journey, a time of profound transformation and anticipation. As your body adapts to nurture new life, it undergoes many changes, some of which can be surprising and unexpected. Among these changes, you may notice a persistent ringing, buzzing, or humming in your ears – a condition known as tinnitus.
Tinnitus during pregnancy can be a bewildering experience, especially if it's your first encounter with this condition. It can add an extra layer of complexity to an already overwhelming period in your life. However, it's important to remember that tinnitus is a common condition, and many pregnant women experience it.
This article aims to provide a comprehensive understanding of tinnitus and pregnancy. We delve into the causes, its impact on your daily life, and strategies to help you navigate this experience.
Tinnitus in Pregnancy: The Facts
Tinnitus is a common experience for many individuals. However, its prevalence can increase during pregnancy due to various physiological changes. In fact, the condition is reported by more than a third of pregnant women.
This figure is much higher than the one in 10 women of the same age who aren't pregnant reporting the same issue. Also, two-thirds of women who had tinnitus before becoming pregnant notice it gets worse during pregnancy, especially between the fourth and sixth months.
Additionally, a study by Schmidt et al. found that tinnitus was present in 52.44% of the pregnant women surveyed. This prevalence is significantly higher than the global average of 15%, suggesting that pregnancy may indeed increase the risk of developing or intensifying the condition .
If someone starts experiencing tinnitus when they're pregnant, it usually continues throughout the pregnancy. But the good news is that the tinnitus often gets better after the baby is born or even goes away completely.
Why Can Pregnancy Cause Tinnitus?
Tinnitus typically occurs due to damage or changes to the cells in the cochlea, the spiral-shaped part of the inner ear responsible for converting sound vibrations into electrical signals for the brain. When these cells are damaged, they can send random electrical signals to the brain, which interprets them as sound, resulting in tinnitus.
Tinnitus during pregnancy can be attributed to various factors that affect the function of the inner ear. It's important to understand these causes to better manage the condition and reduce its impact on your daily life.
Pregnancy brings about significant hormonal changes, impacting various body systems, including the auditory system. These hormonal fluctuations can affect the fluid levels in your inner ear, potentially leading to tinnitus.
Increased Blood Flow
Pregnancy increases blood volume to support the growing foetus, which can lead to increased blood flow in the body, including the ears. This surge in blood flow can sometimes cause a rushing or humming sound in the ears, specifically known as pulsatile tinnitus.
The temporomandibular joint (TMJ) connects your jaw to your skull, and its close proximity to the ear means that any disturbances can be perceived as tinnitus. During pregnancy, hormonal changes can lead to a loosening of the ligaments throughout the body, including those in the TMJ. This can result in an increased strain on the joint, potentially leading to a TMJ disorder characterised by jaw clicking and pain.
Headaches or Migraines
The neurological activity associated with migraines and severe headaches can stimulate the auditory pathways, leading to the perception of tinnitus. Pregnancy can trigger migraines in some women, particularly in the first trimester when hormone levels rapidly rise. Additionally, increased blood volume and circulation can lead to more frequent headaches.
Stress and Fatigue
Pregnancy can be a stressful and tiring time, and stress has been linked to the onset or worsening of tinnitus. It's thought that stress can heighten your awareness of tinnitus, making it more noticeable.
Salt and Water Retention
During pregnancy, the body naturally retains more salt and water to meet the needs of the growing foetus and to prepare for childbirth. This increased water retention can affect the delicate balance of fluid in the inner ear, disrupting the way sound signals are sent and processed, potentially leading to tinnitus.
During pregnancy, the immune system goes through changes to protect the developing foetus while still allowing the body to defend against disease. This can result in a slightly weakened immune response, making pregnant women more susceptible to infections, including in the upper respiratory tract, which can spread to the ears. The inflammation can disrupt the normal functioning of the ear and lead to symptoms such as tinnitus.
Underlying Health Conditions
Certain health conditions during pregnancy, such as high blood pressure or anaemia, can also contribute to tinnitus. For instance, a study found that idiopathic intracranial hypertension, a condition identified by increased pressure around the brain and more common in obese women of childbearing age, is often associated with pulsatile tinnitus .
Pre-eclampsia is a pregnancy complication characterised by high blood pressure and signs of damage to another organ system, often the liver and kidneys. One of the symptoms that can be associated with pre-eclampsia is tinnitus. The exact reason for this is not fully understood, but it's likely related to the changes in blood flow and increased blood pressure that occur with this condition.
Certain medications used during pregnancy can potentially cause or worsen tinnitus. This is because some drugs can be ototoxic, meaning they have the potential to damage the inner ear and cause symptoms such as tinnitus, hearing loss, or balance problems.
How to Soothe Tinnitus in Pregnancy
Tinnitus during pregnancy can be a challenging experience, but there are several strategies that can help you manage the condition and reduce its impact on your daily life. These strategies focus on habituation, support, and reducing your awareness of tinnitus.
Avoid Loud Sounds
Exposure to loud sounds can exacerbate tinnitus, so it's advisable to avoid such environments when possible. If you can't avoid loud noises, consider using ear protection to minimise the impact on your ears.
Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT)
CBT is a type of therapy that can help you tune out tinnitus and push it into the background. It works by changing the way you think about and respond to tinnitus, helping you to break the cycle of stress and anxiety that can accompany the condition.
Joining a support group can be incredibly beneficial. Sharing your experiences with others who understand what you're going through can provide emotional relief and practical advice.
Habituation is the process by which your brain learns to ignore a constant stimulus. In the case of tinnitus, this means training your brain to tune out the sound so that it becomes part of the background noise of your life. This can be achieved through various techniques, primarily CBT, but also mindfulness and relaxation exercises.
Sound therapy involves using other sounds to distract your brain from the tinnitus. This could be something as simple as having some background noise, like a fan or white noise machine, especially in quiet environments or when trying to sleep.
Engaging in activities you enjoy and occupy your attention can help distract your mind from the tinnitus. This could be anything from reading a book to going for a walk.
Adopt a Healthy Lifestyle
Regular exercise, a healthy diet, and adequate sleep can all help to reduce the impact of tinnitus. Avoiding caffeine and alcohol, which can exacerbate the condition, may also be beneficial.
Wear a Hearing Aid
In some cases, wearing a hearing aid can help manage tinnitus. The amplified sounds can help mask the tinnitus, making it less noticeable.
See a Doctor or Hearing Specialist
If your tinnitus is causing significant distress, it's important to seek professional help. A doctor or hearing specialist can provide guidance and support and discuss potential management strategies with you.
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At Oto, we believe in the power of shared experiences. That's why we offer success stories from other users and regular webinars and Q&As with top tinnitus experts. We also offer a free consultation with a specialist who understands your condition.
Oto is not about treating tinnitus; it's about helping you habituate to it, reduce your awareness of it, and reclaim your life. So why wait? Download the Oto app on your iOS or Android device today and start your journey towards tuning out tinnitus.
Tinnitus during pregnancy can be a challenging experience. However, with understanding, support, and effective coping strategies, it's possible to manage this condition and reduce its impact on your life so you can focus on the joy and anticipation of welcoming your new baby into the world.
Remember, you're not alone in this journey, and there are resources available to help you navigate this experience. Oto is a digital platform designed to support individuals experiencing tinnitus. With expertly crafted content and personalised support, Oto can help you push tinnitus to the background, allowing you to focus on the more important things in life.
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- Silva Schmidt, P. M. da, Trindade Flores, F. da, Rossi, A. G., & Silveira, A. F. da. (2010). Hearing and vestibular complaints during pregnancy. https://www.scielo.br/j/bjorl/a/8WhgkHbTwBDLqzBNdM8R76K/?format=pdf