Are Tinnitus (Ringing in the Ears) and Sleep Apnea Linked?

Are Tinnitus and Sleep Apnea Linked?

Tinnitus is the medical term for ringing in the ears. It is  the “perception of a sound in the head without an external source”. Roughly 10 percent of the adult population of the U.S. or approximately 23 million have experienced tinnitus for more than three months. This real or perceived sound typically has a major adverse impact on the quality of daily life.  It impacts not only concentration but things people take for granted – like sleeping.  The question is, are Tinnitus (Ringing in the Ears) and Sleep Apnea Linked?

If you have ever been to a loud concert and left with your ears ringing, this is similar to how tinnitus may sound.  Although ringing is the most common sound, there are other sounds too. Some people with tinnitus report hearing roaring, clicking, hissing, or even buzzing. It might be in one ear or both and pitch and loudness varies. It may be soft or loud, high pitched or low pitched.

Ringing in the ears is a symptom indicating that something within the auditory system is not working properly.  Although this may seem trivial, people who suffer from tinnitus understand how frustrating it can be to live with on a daily basis.  Although research continues, there is no definitive cause.  Some causes are due to old age noise induced hearing loss, ear wax buildup, sinus infections, hormonal changes in women and even brain tumors.  The overriding mystery is that some people apparently develop tinnitus for no obvious reason.  So, unfortunately, it is difficult to pinpoint the exact cause of tinnitus.

How Does Tinnitus (Ringing in the Ears) Relate to Sleep Apnea?

Ringing in the ears obviously impacts quality of sleep. 50-60% of people who have tinnitus mention a sleep disorder.  Thus, there is a high correlation between tinnitus, insomnia and other sleep disturbances.  Tinnitus and sleep issues tends to be a vicious circle. People with ringing in the ears find it difficult to sleep and the quality of their sleep diminishes.  This, of course, leads to more sleep deprivation and exhibiting signs of sleep apnea including daytime sleepiness, lack of focus, irritability and other health issues.

According to a recent study from Henry Ford Hospital in Detroit, insomnia can have a negative impact on the tinnitus. This then worsens the functional and emotional toll on each individual.  The study shows a significant association between insomnia and the severity of potential tinnitus symptoms, with patients reporting greater emotional distress from tinnitus.  “Tinnitus involves cognitive, emotional, and psycho-physiological processes, which can result in an increase in a patient’s distress,” says study co-author Kathleen L. Yaremchuk, M.D., Chair, Department of Otolaryngology-Head & Neck Surgery at Henry Ford. “Sleep complaints, including insomnia, in these patients may result in a decrease in their tolerance to tinnitus.”

Interestingly, many people with tinnitus also report trouble sleeping. They also have sleep apnea prior to the onset of tinnitus.  Moreover, some people report some level of success in reducing tinnitus by utilizing CPAP therapy.  There is little research into the topic, so opinions are varied.  However, some speculate that CPAP machine use during sleep improves blood oxygen levels. It could even impacts unequal pressure in the middle ear.  With the lack of research, sleep apnea and tinnitus forums are a good way to understand and possibly get creative with potential solutions and new treatment options.  Of course, always speak to your doctor prior to any treatment option.  Most importantly, people suffering from ringing in the ears who visit these forums may realize that they are not alone with the symptoms impacting their sleep, and that knowledge is power.

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For additional information on various topics concerning sleep apnea and CPAP products, please refer to our blog.  It is constantly updated and offers free advice and information.  If you’d like to learn more about the quality sleep apnea products we carry, or if you have additional questions, don’t hesitate to contact us through our website or you can call us at (866) 414-9700.

Chris Vasta is the president of The CPAP Shop and an expert in sleep and respiratory therapy. He often provides insights on product design and functionality on various manufacturers’ prototypes and is frequently tapped to provide reviews on new releases.

Chris Vasta


Chris Vasta

Over a 10+ year career at PHH Mortgage managing a $100 million portfolio, Chris Vasta learned the ins and outs of the business world. He learned how to establish business relationships, lead a multi-prong team, and implement strategies for long-term growth. In 2007, Vasta used that experience to transition his role into president of The CPAP Shop. Over his tenure, Vasta has been involved in everything from website design to warehouse layout. His hands-on approach with customers has evolved into an in-depth understanding of the challenges of beginning and adhering to sleep therapy. He often provides his insights on product…