Migraines? Watch for These Related Hearing Problems

Man suffering from headaches and hearing loss.

If you have a history of migraines, research shows that you may be at risk of developing certain hearing problems related to the inner ear. While the research has yet to establish a specific causal link between migraines and hearing problems, it did show a clear rise in inner ear-related hearing loss in those who had a history of migraines versus those who did not.

What Is a Migraine?

If your doctor has never diagnosed you with migraines, you may not be sure if you have them. Most people with migraines experience debilitating pain on one side of the head, though it can occur on both sides. They may also experience dizziness, sensitivity to light and sound, and nausea.

Some people experience vestibular migraines, which come with the other symptoms, but no not always include a headache. Vestibular migraines are related to the inner ear, which helps us maintain our balance. People with these migraines may have difficulty with their balance, or feel like they are rocking in a boat.

Why Is the Inner Ear So Important

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

The cochlea is surrounded by hair cells called cilia that help pick up sound waves and move them along to the cochlea. When the cilia in humans become damaged or destroyed, they do not grow back. This can lead to a gradual loss of hearing over time.

Migraines and Cochlear Disorder Research

Researchers used data from the Taiwan Longitudinal Health Insurance Database 2005 to study 1,056 people who were diagnosed with migraines between 1996 and 2012. They compared this group to 4,224 people who did not have migraines in that time period, but who were similar demographically.

They found that people with a history of migraines were three times more likely than those who didn’t to develop tinnitus, or a persistent ringing in the ears. While some may consider a ringing in the ears to be a small problem, it can lead to loss of sleep, anxiety, and other problems. The group who experienced migraines also showed a higher incidence of sensorineural hearing loss. This type of hearing problem is related to the tiny hairs in the ear that help transmit sound to the cochlea so it can turn them into nerve signals to the brain. Most people who experience hearing problems have sensorineural issues.

The third hearing-related issue that researchers discovered in patients with migraines was a higher incidence of sudden deafness, which is also usually related to problems in the inner ear.

These scientists stopped short of saying that migraines cause these hearing problems, as there could be related conditions that lead to both. However, based on this study, there is a clear link between the two. The researchers concluded that “cochlear migraine” might be an apt descriptor based on these links. This leaves the door open to more research to study this specific link, perhaps in measuring the loss of cilia over time in migraine sufferers.

If you have migraines, that does not mean that you will necessarily develop tinnitus or other cochlear disorders. You should be aware of the connection so that you can catch the signs of hearing problems as early as possible. This gives your hearing health professional the best chance of coming up with a treatment plan to best suit your specific needs.

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