Sleep apnea and tinnitus are rarely discussed within the same article. After all, these two conditions appear to be entirely unrelated to one another at first glance.
Until rather recently, most medical professionals felt the same. This is why it might come as a bit of shock to learn that obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) and tinnitus can be directly related.
Whether you are currently grappling with the effects of OSA or you have already been diagnosed with tinnitus, it pays to examine each scenario in greater detail.
What Have Studies Suggested?
Tinnitus is a chronic condition associated with ringing or buzzing in the ears. Symptoms can range from mild to severe (depending on how far the disease has progressed). In the past, the root causes of tinnitus included:
- Some types of head and neck injuries
- Specific medications
- Exposure to loud noises for extended periods of time (the most common)
- An accumulation of earwax (normally alleviating itself once the wax is removed)
However, research also indicates that as many as 30 percent of people who have been diagnosed with sleep apnea experience symptoms associated with tinnitus.
Why is this the case and how might the presence of one influence the development of the other? We will now look at some predominant theories.
The Role of Oxygen Deprivation
One of the main problems associated with obstructive sleep apnea involves the inability to obtain proper levels of oxygen during the night. This primarily results from a narrowing (or a complete collapse) of the airways for short periods of time.
The frequency of these episodes is measured using a tool known as the apnea-hypopnea index (AHI). In other words, more interruptions in breathing will exacerbate the symptoms of sleep apnea. This is also why sleep apnea and tinnitus could be present at the same time.
Oxygen deprivation can damage various cells throughout the body if left unchecked (such as if an individual does not receive treatment for a long period of time). The cells within the ears are just as prone to this type of degradation. As a result, tinnitus may be more likely to develop.
Does Snoring Influence Tinnitus?
We have already seen that tinnitus is often caused by the presence of loud noises. Typical examples include working within close proximity to industrial machinery or even listening to music above the recommended volume. Believe it or not, chronic snoring might also play a role.
While the verdict is still out, some medical professionals believe that frequent snoring may increase the chances of developing tinnitus symptoms if left unchecked. However, more research needs to be carried out to prove (or disprove) this theory.
Tinnitus During the Overnight Hours
Some individuals might only experience mild symptoms of tinnitus that go largely unnoticed throughout the day. This is due to the prevalence of background noises.
However, we normally choose to sleep within a very quiet environment. It is therefore more likely that even slight buzzing or ringing sounds will be more apparent when we lay down for the evening. Either way, any symptoms should be reviewed by a trained professional.
Can Treating Sleep Apnea Help to Lessen the Symptoms of Tinnitus?
In order to answer this logical question, it is first important to address the cause of the tinnitus. In other words, was the tinnitus caused by obstructive sleep apnea or is it entirely unrelated? An example can help to clarify this observation.
Let's imagine that you are employed in the construction industry and are constantly bombarded with loud noises. Even if you happen to have been diagnosed with obstructive sleep apnea, there is a substantial chance that the tinnitus itself is unrelated.
However, there could also be times when excessive snoring or a lack of oxygen exacerbates the symptoms of tinnitus. In this case, treating OSA could provide a modicum of relief. The only way to determine whether this is the case is to consult with a specialist. He or she can then provide a host of targeted solutions.
How Can Obstructive Sleep Apnea be Treated?
If you have been diagnosed with sleep apnea tinnitus (tinnitus that is thought to have been directly caused by obstructive sleep apnea), one of the most effective solutions involves the use of a positive airway pressure (PAP) machine during the overnight hours.
The main purpose of a PAP device is to supply air at a slightly higher pressure, making it much easier to breathe and helping to ensure that the airways remain open.
Studies indicate that more than 75 percent of those suffering from obstructive sleep apnea will report an improvement in their symptoms thanks to the presence of a PAP device. Note that there are many different configurations to choose from and these can often be customized in accordance with your sleeping habits.
Will Treating OSA Cure Tinnitus?
This is a final question to address before concluding. Unfortunately, there is currently no known cure for tinnitus. If extensive damage has already been done, it cannot be reversed or alleviated.
So, treating the underlying symptoms of OSA will not cause your tinnitus to suddenly abate. However, this is still one of the best ways to obtain a much-needed evening of rest. We should also mention that those who snore loudly might cause their tinnitus to become worse over time. Therefore, the use of a CPAP will decrease the chances of further damaging the ear canal.
The good news is that research is constantly advancing and there are now many options if you wish to reduce the impact of obstructive sleep apnea. Make it a point to speak with a trained professional to discover how far medical science has evolved.