37 million Americans deal with migraines. For 5 million of these sufferers, a migraine is, at minimum, a monthly affair. These excruciating headaches can last for many days.
Just when you thought that the pain and sensitivity were the worst part of migraines, scientists set out to prove you wrong, showing a clear link between these headaches and hearing loss.
What Is a Migraine?
To understand how this throbbing pain and hearing loss could be linked, we should first look at what a migraine is. It’s not just a headache as your friends who don’t get migraines likely call it.
If you get migraines, your brain chemistry is different from those who don’t. This change likely came about through genetics. Doctors once believed that an abnormality in your blood vessels caused migraines.
This is understandable, considering it’s the vessels that are most prominent during an attack. But researchers today know that the throbbing blood vessels are merely one more of the many symptoms associated with migraines, including nausea, sound sensitivity, and seeing shimmering lights, among others.
They’re not confident what causes migraines, but science is beginning to shed some light on what the real cause may be.
What Causes Migraines?
Scientists are now looking at the neurotransmitters. These transmitters help regulate the amounts of various hormones that enter the bloodstream. They believe spikes and then sudden drops in the happiness hormone serotonin could be a part of this. This drop would lead to vessel constriction.
They also believe that the hypothalamus plays a role. This part of your brain that helps regulate sleep, appetite, and other hormone-related events. Scientists are exploring whether disruptions in this part of the brain causes an onset. It’s well-known that sudden changes in sleep patterns can bring on episodes, so this theory makes a lot of sense.
Finally, researchers are looking at the brain stem. The brainstem has safeguards in place that prevent us from registering normal everyday-things like light and low volume sound as painful. If this were disrupted, then pain sensors could perceive specific brain signals as pain.
Research is ongoing, but testing has shown a migraine sufferer’s brain is functioning very differently from the brain of a non-sufferer.
Migraines & Hearing Loss
As studies seek to find the cause of migraines, they found something entirely unexpected in the cochlea of migraine sufferers. The cochlea is a snail shell-shaped bone in your inner ear. It contains the tiny hairs that are responsible for sending signals to the brain regarding sound.
Egypt’s Assiut University Hospital’s Department of Neurology and Psychology found that 2/3 of people with migraine sufferers have a similar abnormality in this bone. The other 1/3 may simply be ticking time bombs with each new episode doing more damage.
The scientists concluded that the constriction of vessels caused by a migraine cuts off life-giving oxygen to the cochlea. Just like a finger, hand, or foot that loses its blood supply, eventually, the cells die. The delicate hair cells in the cochlea are the first to go. Unlike other cells in your body, these vulnerable cells don’t heal or grow back.
Another study out of Taiwan found that someone who suffers from migraines is twice as likely to have sudden sensorineural hearing loss. This is permanent hearing loss resulting from the damage to the little hairs in the cochlea. Because it’s sudden, it can happen over the course of a few days.
What Should You Do About Migraine-Related Hearing Loss
The first important step is to get properly diagnosed with migraines. These are very different from other headaches. A misdiagnosis could delay treatment.
Because you’re appropriately diagnosed, you can talk to your doctor about effective ways to prevent migraines, reduce their duration and frequency. The little hairs in the cochlea don’t die all at once. Ongoing and repeated loss of blood supply may cause them to die over time. Treating migraines may reduce your chances of hearing loss.
If you experience sudden hearing loss, get help immediately.
But also make sure to schedule an annual hearing test. Let them know that you get migraines. Hearing specialists will be able to measure how your hearing is changing over time and how the migraine-related hearing loss may be progressing and whether you need hearing aids.