A Link Between Migraines, Tinnitus & Hearing Loss

A Link Between Migraines, Tinnitus & Hearing Loss

If you suffer from migraines, you know how excruciating they can be. Migraines are not normal headaches! They are neurological diseases that involve nerve pathways and chemicals. Changes in brain activity affect blood in the brain and surrounding tissues, and can cause a range of symptoms including severe throbbing pain or a pulsing sensation, often on one side of the head and often accompanied by nausea, vomiting, and extreme sensitivity to light and sound. Now studies are finding on top of all these symptoms, those who suffer from regular migraines are more likely to experience hearing loss and tinnitus.

Understanding Migraines

According to the American Migraine Foundation, more than 39 million people experience migraines in the US. While people often describe migraines and headaches as the same, the symptoms of migraines are far more debilitating, coming on suddenly and causing someone to rest and cover their eyes until symptoms subside- which may take hours or last days. Migraine is a neurological condition due to changes in blood flow to the brain which may include symptoms such as 

  • 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 

 Understanding Hearing Loss and its Connection

Hearing loss is a condition that affects the ears, but the side effects are much further reaching. The ear’s main function is to collect sound and send it to the brain where sound is identified, and speech is interpreted. It achieves this by sending audio vibrations first through the eardrum and then the tiny earbones, called ossicles which amplify the sound and send it to the cochlea, a fluid-filled, snail-shaped organ. Within the cochlea are tiny hair-like cells surrounded by fluid. As the fluid vibrates in response to the eardrum and ossicles, the tiny cells called stereocilia receive and transform these signals into electrical impulses which are sent to the brain to be processed. The stereocilia are essential in the complex process of hearing and very susceptible to damage. When they do sustain damage, it leads to irreversible sensorineural hearing loss. Stereocilia rely on a steady supply of oxygen-rich blood to maintain health, and many researchers reason that changes in blood flow during a migraine can lead to serious inner ear damage.

Studies on Hearing Loss and Migraines:

Several studies highlight a significant connection between migraines, tinnitus, and hearing loss. One study from Assiut University was published in the American Journal of Otolaryngology and examined the relationship between hearing loss and migraine by assessing cochlear function and auditory pathways in 58 people. They found that two-thirds of the test group who had migraines also displayed abnormalities in the brain’s response to sound. 

Meanwhile, a separate study from the University of California Irvine, published in Otology & Neurotology, assessed data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, including 13,000 people, between the ages of 18-64. They noted that 20.5% of this large cohort reported experiencing migraines. At the end of the study, researchers reported that in compared to people without migraine, patients with migraine were:

  • 2.1 times more likely to have tinnitus 
  • 1.2 times more likely to have hearing loss.  

Treating Migraines & Ways to Protect Hearing Health

The researchers’ reason is that preventing migraines may be a big step in preventing hearing loss. While no one knows exactly what causes a migraine however there are ways to lessen their frequency. Not surprisingly they are the basics of health. Make sure to eat a balanced diet prioritizing vegetables, fruits, whole grains, and lean meats while avoiding processed foods and sugars. In addition, make sure to get plenty of rest. Wake up at the same time every morning and go to sleep at the same time every evening. This can be easier said than done, but with regular exercise, you can ensure that your body rests consistently. 

Treating Hearing Loss

If you do have hearing loss it’s important to treat it as soon as possible. An ignored hearing loss can quickly turn into rifts in your relationships across your life, depression, cognitive decline, and a higher risk of accidents leading to hospitalization. To schedule a hearing exam today, contact us now!