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Tinnitus and headache

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Ringing in ears, headache and migraine: Causes and treatment

Tinnitus is a common experience for many people, both with and without hearing loss. This perception of non-existent sound, however, isn’t a condition in and of itself—rather, it’s a symptom of another underlying medical condition. One of those correlated ailments is headaches, including migraines. But what are the connections between tinnitus and headaches?  Learn more about tinnitus, how it's related to migraines and how to treat your symptoms.

Understanding tinnitus

For many, tinnitus is a relatively common occurrence—this annoying ringing sensation in the ears affects about 10% of the population. While many people experience tinnitus, it can sound different for each person. Some of the most reported sounds include persistent ringing, buzzing, whooshing or clicking.

Because it isn’t a condition, tinnitus usually presents as a symptom of another medical condition. If your tinnitus is caused by excess earwax build-up, stress, anemia or overconsumption of stimulants like caffeine or nicotine, your symptoms can be treated more easily or eliminated. However, if the ringing in your ears comes from prolonged exposure to loud noise or presbycusis (age-related hearing loss), or from an ototoxic medication, you might experience chronic tinnitus symptoms.  

What is a migraine?

Similarly, migraines are also a common medical experience, afflicting at least 39 million Americans. ¹ This neurological condition causes throbbing or pulsing head pain and can include symptoms like nausea and sensitivity to light, noise and smells. While migraines are like headaches, the greatest difference is the severity of the pain. Headaches often range from dull to acute levels of pain, whereas migraine pain can be debilitating

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Can tinnitus cause migraines?

In addition to the mentioned symptoms, migraines can also produce auras or sensory disruptions that occur before or during the onset of a migraine. In some cases, this sensation includes visual disruptions, such as seeing dots or flashes of light, but can also occur as changes in the perception of smells or sounds. Studies have shown that even if you don’t experience auras, people who live with migraines are at a greater risk for tinnitus and hearing loss.

In a 2021 study of nearly 13,000 subjects, migraine sufferers (also called migraineurs) were found to be more likely to experience subjective tinnitus compared to those who don’t get migraines. Among the migraineurs, those with tinnitus also experienced subjective hearing loss compared to those without tinnitus. People with subjective hearing loss were also more likely to have tinnitus compared to those without hearing loss.² The bottom line? Migraines can put you at a greater risk of experiencing other hearing-related problems. 

While migraine auras often feature visual symptoms, they can also affect your hearing. In the case of migraine aura tinnitus, the patient experiences chronic tinnitus symptoms as an indicator of an oncoming migraine instead of experiencing flashing lights or blurred vision.

Studies of migraineurs have further demonstrated this connection between migraines and auras. A 2016 study found that while tinnitus was commonly reported in participants with migraines, it was even more likely for participants with migraines auras.³ While each person’s migraine and tinnitus experiences are different, it’s important to understand the potential interrelation between these symptoms. 

Just as research has shown that people with migraines are more likely to experience tinnitus, the inverse is also true: People with tinnitus may be more likely to experience migraines.

Tinnitus is related to several types of head pain disorders, from slight headaches to severe migraines. A 2017 study found that participants with tinnitus also experienced painful reactions to loud noises and general head pain⁴—yet another instance of research linking tinnitus and migraines together. 

While the full extent of the link between pulsatile tinnitus and migraines is still being explored, some studies suggest that migraines could cause pulsatile tinnitus specifically.

Pulsatile tinnitus is a specific type that features a rhythmic thumping corresponding to your heart rate and blood flow. In the case of migraines, the condition could cause tinnitus by constricting blood vessels in the head, causing the sensation of pulsing in the ear to become more pronounced.

Because pulsatile tinnitus can also be caused by other underlying health conditions, discuss all symptoms with your doctor to understand how pulsatile tinnitus migraines might affect or connect to your broader health.

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Care for your ears

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Can tinnitus cause headaches?

Not only is tinnitus related to migraines, but tinnitus and headaches can also go hand in hand. Each type of headache targets a different part of the head and might affect your tinnitus experience. 

A cluster headache is a type of severe headache that typically occurs in clusters or patterns on just one side of the head. Cluster headaches and tinnitus can occur together, but their links aren’t proven: Tinnitus isn’t typically a symptom of a cluster headache, but people who live with tinnitus are more likely to also experience cluster headaches. 

Tension headaches, also known as stress headaches, can be brought on by stress, poor sleep or bad posture. These headaches affect both sides of the head. While tension headaches and tinnitus can occur at the same time, it’s not as likely to happen as it is with full migraines. 

Tinnitus and headaches can also occur more generally, without a specific type. A 2017 study found that people who report both tinnitus and headache symptoms exhibited unclassified headache types, meaning their symptoms don’t align with any specific headache type.⁵

In some cases, people can experience tinnitus and headache symptoms because of other neurological conditions, such as vertigo or Meniere’s disease.

Find tinnitus relief today

If you experience tinnitus, don’t hesitate to speak with your doctor or hearing instrument specialist about how you can best manage the symptoms.

How to treat tinnitus

While there is no cure for tinnitus, there are several treatment options to find relief from the condition. Hearing aids can be a powerful solution to finding lasting relief from your tinnitus. With the help of your hearing care professional (HCP), your hearing aids can be equipped with programs like Sound or Notch Therapy, which can mask tinnitus sounds and distract the brain from symptoms over time.

Beyond wearing hearing aids, small lifestyle changes can go a long way in addressing your tinnitus. When in noisy places, such as concerts or loud workplaces, make sure to wear hearing protection. Be conscious of volume when wearing headphones, and pay attention to your cardiovascular health to prevent pulsatile tinnitus.

Because tinnitus can also be linked to other health conditions, it’s important to see a medical doctor first. Once any serious complications have been ruled out, schedule an appointment with your HCP to learn more about your tinnitus treatment options and determine which solutions can help you find relief.  

How to treat migraines

If you find yourself experiencing migraine symptoms, there are several immediate steps you can take to handle the pain and manage your condition.

  • Find a calm environment. Turn off bright lights, take soothing deep breaths and try to relax in a comfortable position.
  • Use temperature therapy. Ice packs can numb or dull the pain, while hot packs or heating pads can relax tense muscles.
  • Sip a caffeinated drink. In small amounts, caffeine can help relieve pain. Be sure not to ingest too much caffeine to avoid withdrawal headaches or sleep disruption.
  • Sleep it off. If possible, try to sleep off your migraine to reset your sleep patterns or catch up on missing sleep.

If you regularly experience intense migraine symptoms, schedule an appointment with your doctor to discuss your condition and find a solution. 

How to treat headaches

Many treatments used to address migraines can also be applied to treat headaches in a pinch. Try these steps to relieve your head pain.

  • Take OTC medication. Just like a caffeinated drink can help, so can pain-reducing medications like ibuprofen, acetaminophen and aspirin. Caution should be exercised when using aspirin type products as they can cause tinnitus.
  • Drink water. Headaches could be a sign of dehydration, and hydrating can offer some relief.
  • Practice deep breathing. Try deep breathing techniques to slow down your heart rate and lower your stress levels.

If you struggle with headaches on a regular basis, discuss your symptoms with your doctor. 

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Explore our hearing aids

Another treatment option is a hearing aid for tinnitus. These hearing aids produce a sound that masks the sound of tinnitus. Discover Miracle-Ear product range of hearing aids and get advice on the best ones for you according to your specific needs!

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