Man suffering from a migraine.

As a migraine sufferer, you’re well aware it can take a perfectly good day and turn it into a struggle just to exist. But life doesn’t stop every time you get a headache.

At work, you try not to let it show as you’re collaborating with co-workers. You hear the disappointment in your granddaughter’s voice when you tell her you’ll miss a soccer game. Your heart sinks when you have to cancel a much anticipated weekend trip with friends that you’d been planning for months.

What you may not realize is that years of learning to live with your migraines may have caused permanent damage to a sense you cherish for its ability to help you experience life at its fullest:

Migraine sufferers are twice as likely to develop sudden hearing loss.

Here’s what you need to know.

What Is a Migraine?

A migraine isn’t just a bad headache. It’s a neurological disease characterized by excruciating pain, often on one side of the head. It may be accompanied by:

  • Light/Sound sensitivity
  • Nausea/Vomiting
  • Seeing auras

For decades researchers have worked to understand what causes migraines. After years of research, they’ve discovered that the brain of a person with migraines is different from that of a non-migraine sufferer.

Doctors once thought that the vessel dilation people experience during an episode was causing the pain. They now believe that migraines are a result of an abnormal stimulation of the trigeminal nerve. It’s responsible for warning your brain with pain signals when something is harming your face. A migraine headache may be an overreaction of on the part of this nerve.

Even if a neurological abnormality is causing the migraine, the headache itself appears to alter the chemistry of the brain.

How Migraines May Cause Hearing Loss

A recent study performed by the Assiut University Hospital’s Department of Neurology and Psychology found abnormalities in the cochlea of the inner ear present in people with this disease. This abnormality could contribute to hearing loss.

Another relatively small study performed by University of Pennsylvania Perelman School of Medicine found that a sufferer’s blood vessels are structured differently than a person without. Migraine sufferers are 27% more likely than non-sufferers to have an incomplete “Circle of Willis”.

This is a network of vessels responsible for getting blood to your brain. When it’s incomplete, blood flow is hindered. Various sensory abnormalities can occur.

This difference in structure may explain why people who get migraine headaches are so likely to develop sudden hearing loss.

Finally, people with migraine often also suffer from vestibular migraine symptoms. This is a sudden dizziness and lack of balance that suffers may experience about 50% of the time without a headache.

Balance is an inner ear function just like hearing. This shows yet another connection between symptoms.

More studies are needed to confirm these relationships, but we do know with certainty that cutting off the blood flow to the ears causes the death of the tiny hair cells in your cochlea that you need to hear. Once these die, they don’t regenerate like other cells in your body. This cell death is what causes sensorineural hearing loss, the kind we associate with aging.

An abnormally-shaped cochlea combined with low blood flow may create the perfect storm needed to increase hearing loss risk this much.

What You Can Do

If you’re living with migraine symptoms, don’t give up. Keep working with your doctor to find solutions that reduce frequency and duration. We’re learning more about migraines all the time.

If you’ve been dealing with migraines for much of your life, know that you very likely have hearing loss that will progress as this illness continues. Hearing loss can really sneak up on a person. When it does, it can begin impacting various areas of your life without you realizing it.

As a migraine sufferer, you may also experience sudden hearing loss during or after an episode. This hearing loss is most likely permanent. Suddenly losing your hearing is a very frightening thought, but know that there are solutions that can help restore your hearing.

It’s so important to get your hearing tested and know where you stand. If you do have hearing loss, a hearing specialist can help you understand the severity and your options. Currently, the best option for treating hearing loss is hearing aids.

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