Imagine a sound that travels with you no matter where you go. Whether it’s a ring, a whoosh or a crickets-like buzz, you can’t escape it.
“Mine was like this high-pitched sonic sound,” says Elizabeth Fraser, who developed tinnitus last fall. It came on suddenly at a time when many people delayed doctor visits due to the coronavirus pandemic. “It just felt like an invasion in my head, so I was really distressed,” Fraser recalls.
“There’s a link between increased stress and tinnitus either initiating or worsening,” says Eldre Beukes, an audiologist at Lamar University, so she wasn’t surprised by the pandemic’s effect. Her research shows that people with preexisting tinnitus who experienced loneliness, isolation or increased worries were most likely to report a worsening during the pandemic.
Tinnitus can occur anytime in a life span. “I have patients of all ages who report tinnitus from barely noticeable to incapacitating,” Sydlowski says. She says there are instances when the ringing can be traumatic enough that it causes people to have thoughts of self-harm because it feels inescapable.