Nearly 30 million people experience migraine, a neurological condition that impacts the brain or nerves. Migraine is not just a bad headache but recurring headaches and other symptoms that can last days. This can disrupt daily life in a variety of ways – disrupting sleep, ability to complete tasks, concentrate etc. Migraine can also impact health by increasing health risks. Recent studies show that people with migraine can be more likely to experience hearing loss and tinnitus.
Understanding Hearing Loss & Tinnitus
Hearing loss is one of the most common health issues that people live with today. Impacting over 48 million people (1 in 6), hearing loss is pervasive. Hearing loss most commonly occurs when hair cells in the inner ear are damaged. A few factors can lead to this including: exposure to loud noise, aging, head injuries, certain medication, and existing medical conditions. Hair cells in the inner ear play a critical role in how sound is processed. These sensory cells send the brain auditory information which the brain continues to process, assigning meaning to the sound we hear. These cells can become desensitized and/or die, preventing them from performing their essential function, resulting in chronic hearing loss. Hearing loss produces a range of symptoms including tinnitus.
Tinnitus is commonly referred to as “ringing in the ears” and is experienced by an estimated 50 million people according to the CDC. Tinnitus is the experience of hearing a sound in one or both ears when no external sound is present in the environment. This sound is most often described as a buzzing, ringing, or clicking like noise that can range from mild to severe. Tinnitus can make it challenging to initiate and/or maintain sleep, focus, have conversations, and manage daily tasks. Tinnitus is not a condition itself by a symptom of an underlying condition someone is experiencing. One of the most common causes of tinnitus is hearing loss but tinnitus can also occur without hearing loss.
Link Between Migraines, Tinnitus & Hearing Loss
Recent research reveals a link between migraines, tinnitus, and hearing loss. Studies show that people with migraine can be more likely to experience tinnitus and hearing loss. This includes a 2021 study, published in Otology & Neurology. Researchers examined this link by conducting a cross-sectional analysis of data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES). This included data on 12,962 people, ages 18-65:
- 20.5% reported having migraines
- 18.1% had subjective hearing loss. Of this population, 24.5% experienced migraines.
- 19.9% had tinnitus. Of this population, 35.6% experienced migraines.
After evaluating this data set, researchers found that people with migraines were more likely to have hearing loss and tinnitus compared to people without migraines:
- 25% of people with migraines had hearing loss compared to 16.6% without migraines who also experienced hearing loss.
- 34.6% of people with migraines had tinnitus compared to 16.9% without migraines who experienced tinnitus.
These findings highlight that people with migraines were more likely to experience both hearing loss and tinnitus. If you experience migraine, it is important to take steps to alleviate your symptoms and also protect your hearing health.
Tips to Protect Hearing Health
There are several ways you can protect your hearing health and wellness. A few tips you can integrate include the following:
- Prioritize migraine care: it is important to practice migraine prevention and treatment plans in consultation with your healthcare provider. This could include taking medications that alleviate symptoms, managing stress healthily, getting quality sleep, adjusting light exposure etc. Ask your healthcare provider about side-effects of medications to make sure they are not ototoxic (harmful for hearing health).
- Reduce loud noise exposure: loud noise is a common cause of hearing loss. If you experience migraine, you are more vulnerable to hearing loss so practicing extra safety measures is useful. Reduce your exposure to loud noise by maintaining low volume levels on electronic devices, avoiding noisy settings during peak hours, driving with the windows rolled up, taking listening breaks etc.
- Have hearing tested regularly: another useful tip is to have your hearing assessed regularly. You can do this by incorporating a hearing test in annual health screenings. This allows you to track your hearing health and intervene if you develop any symptoms that need to be addressed.