A Link Between Migraines, Tinnitus & Hearing Loss

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Studies show that people who suffer from migraines are also more likely to experience hearing loss and tinnitus. Hearing loss is a pervasive medical condition that reduces the capacity to hear and process sound. This produces a range of symptoms including tinnitus which is characterized by a buzzing or ringing-like noise in one or both ears. Hearing loss symptoms strain communication which can take a toll on daily life by affecting relationships, work performance, social life, and health. If you experience migraines, it is important to prioritize your hearing health by practicing preventive measures that reduce the risk of impaired hearing. 

 

Understanding Migraines 

More than 37 million people experience migraine according to the American Migraine Foundation. Though headaches and migraines are often used interchangeably, they differ in important ways. Migraine is a neurological condition that involves experiencing migraine attacks which have different symptoms than headaches. Symptoms include: 

  • Throbbing and/or pulsating pain
  • Pain behind one ear or eye and/or in the temples 
  • Nausea, vomiting 
  • Impaired vision 
  • Sensitivity to sound and/or light 
  • Seeing bright spots or flashing lights (referred to as aura)

These symptoms tend to be more intense than symptoms associated with a headache. Also, the duration of migraines can range from 4 hours to days long. 

 

Research Linking Migraines, Tinnitus, & Hearing Loss 

Several studies highlight a correlation between migraines, tinnitus, and hearing loss. This includes the following studies: 

  • Assiut University study published in the American Journal of Otolaryngology: researchers examined the relationship between hearing loss and migraine by assessing cochlear function and auditory pathways for 58 patients. Researchers found that two-thirds of people with migraine had one or more abnormalities in how the brain responds to sound. 
  • University of California Irvine study published in Otology & Neurotology: to evaluate hearing loss and tinnitus among people with migraine, researchers at UCI assessed data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey. This included data of nearly 13,000 people, ages 18-64. 20.5% of this population reported experiencing migraines. Researchers found that compared to people without migraine, participants with migraine were:
  • 2.1 times more likely to have tinnitus 
  • 1.2 times more likely to have hearing loss. 

 

These studies reveal that there is a link between migraine, hearing loss, and tinnitus. Researchers suggest that migraines constrict blood flow and this includes circulation in the ears. This can impact the hair cells in the cochlea which play a critical role in how we process sound. 

 

These hair cells are sensory receptors that send sound information to the brain by converting incoming soundwaves into electrical signals. The brain is then able to further process these signals, assigning meaning to them which allows us to understand what we hear. Changes in blood flow or blood pressure can damage these delicate cells which prevent them from functioning optimally, contributing to hearing loss. 

 

Treating Migraines & Ways to Protect Hearing Health

It is important to manage migraines effectively as well as integrate measures that protect hearing health. Migraine treatment is often two-fold – medications that target and alleviate symptoms during an attack and medications that are more preventative. Treatment options depend on the frequency and severity of attacks as well as the specific symptoms you experience. In addition to working with your healthcare provider to establish the combination of medications that effectively manage your migraines, prioritizing hearing health is important. Because people with migraine experience an increased risk of tinnitus and hearing loss, it is even more critical to practice preventative care. Simple ways to do this include: 

  • Have hearing checked regularly: hearing tests involve a painless process that measures hearing capacity in both ears. This identifies any impairment and the degree of hearing loss you could be experiencing. It also establishes a baseline of your hearing health which makes tracking any changes easier. 
  • Wear hearing protection: it is also important to reduce other risk factors that can cause hearing loss. Exposure to loud noise is a major cause of hearing loss and wearing hearing protection is a great way to mitigate the harm of hazardous levels of noise. This can include headphones and earplugs which reduce the amount and impact of loud noise you absorb. 
  • Reduce exposure: in addition to wearing hearing protection, you can reduce your exposure to loud noise by maintaining lower volume settings on electronic devices, taking listening breaks throughout the day, and investing in noise-canceling headphones. 

 

Contact us today to schedule an appointment for a hearing consultation. Our practice is committed to maintaining optimal hearing health and wellness. 

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