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Logo of bmcentdBioMed Centralsearchsubmit a manuscriptregisterthis articleBMC Ear, Nose, and Throat Disorders
 
BMC Ear Nose Throat Disord. 2012; 12: 4.
Published online 2012 March 26. doi:  10.1186/1472-6815-12-4
PMCID: PMC3328238

Cortisol suppression and hearing thresholds in tinnitus after low-dose dexamethasone challenge

Abstract

Background

Tinnitus is a frequent, debilitating hearing disorder associated with severe emotional and psychological suffering. Although a link between stress and tinnitus has been widely recognized, the empirical evidence is scant. Our aims were to test for dysregulation of the stress-related hypothalamus-pituitary adrenal (HPA) axis in tinnitus and to examine ear sensitivity variations with cortisol manipulation.

Methods

Twenty-one tinnitus participants and 21 controls comparable in age, education, and overall health status but without tinnitus underwent basal cortisol assessments on three non-consecutive days and took 0.5 mg of dexamethasone (DEX) at 23:00 on the first day. Cortisol levels were measured hourly the next morning. Detection and discomfort hearing thresholds were measured before and after dexamethasone suppression test.

Results

Both groups displayed similar basal cortisol levels, but tinnitus participants showed stronger and longer-lasting cortisol suppression after DEX administration. Suppression was unrelated to hearing loss. Discomfort threshold was lower after cortisol suppression in tinnitus ears.

Conclusions

Our findings suggest heightened glucocorticoid sensitivity in tinnitus in terms of an abnormally strong glucocorticoid receptor (GR)-mediated HPA-axis feedback (despite a normal mineralocorticoid receptor (MR)-mediated tone) and lower tolerance for sound loudness with suppressed cortisol levels. Long-term stress exposure and its deleterious effects therefore constitute an important predisposing factor for, or a significant pathological consequence of, this debilitating hearing disorder.

Keywords: Cortisol, Hearing sensitivity, Hearing threshold, HPA axis, Low-dose dexamethasone suppression test, Stress, Tinnitus

Articles from BMC Ear, Nose, and Throat Disorders are provided here courtesy of BioMed Central