The Link Between Migraines and Hearing Problems

Man suffering from headaches and hearing loss.

If you experience migraine headaches, research shows you may be at greater risk for developing hearing problems. Scientific research has yet to establish that migraines cause hearing problems. It has, however, found a higher incidence of inner ear-related hearing loss among individuals with a history of migraines.

What is a migraine headache?

Most individuals with migraines experience debilitating pain on one side of their heads, although it can also occur on both sides. Migraines often cause dizziness, sensitivity to light and sound, as well as nausea.

Some people experience vestibular migraines, which cause other symptoms, but often don’t include headaches. Vestibular migraines are related to the inner ears, which help us maintain balance. People with vestibular migraines may have difficulty keeping their balance, or feel like they are standing on a boat at sea.

The importance of the inner ear

The inner ear contains many sensitive parts that affect the quality of our hearing. The cochlea is a structure in the inner ear that looks like a snail and sends neural signals to the brain to help translate sounds.

The cochlea is surrounded by hair cells, called cilia, that receive sound waves and transmit them to the cochlea. When the cilia become damaged or destroyed, they don’t grow back. Over time, this leads to gradual hearing loss.

Migraines and cochlear disorder

Researchers used data from the Taiwan Longitudinal Health Insurance Database to study 1,056 people who were diagnosed with migraines between 1996 and 2012. They compared this group to 4,224 people who never experienced migraines during that timeframe, but were demographically similar.

The researchers found people with a history of migraines were three times more likely than those without to develop tinnitus – a persistent ringing in the ears. While ringing in the ears may seem like a minor issue, it can lead to sleep deprivation, anxiety, and other problems. The study participants with migraines also showed a higher incidence of sensorineural hearing loss. This type of hearing problem is caused by damage to the cilia. Most people who experience hearing loss have sensorineural issues.

The third hearing-related issue researchers discovered among patients experiencing migraines was a higher incidence of sudden deafness, which is typically associated with damage to the inner ear.

Researchers stopped short of stating migraines cause these hearing problems, as there could be related health conditions that lead to these same issues. Based on the study, however, there is a clear link between migraines and hearing loss. Researchers concluded that “cochlear migraine” might be an apt descriptor based on the link. This leaves the door open to additional research that will study the link between migraines and hearing loss. Further research may involve measuring the loss of cilia among migraine sufferers over time.

If you experience migraine headaches, that does not automatically mean you will develop tinnitus or other cochlear disorders. You should be aware of the link, however, so you can have hearing problems treated as early as possible. Make an appointment with your hearing specialist today. Together, the two of you can develop a treatment plan that best suits your specific health needs.

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