Migraines. Even those that aren’t affected by them have at least some understanding of the pain they bring. For those that do suffer from migraines, they are an often debilitating part of life, but recent research indicates that they may also have serious long-term consequences for hearing health.
What is a migraine?
A migraine is more than just a headache. Characterized by severe, often throbbing, pain in the head, these headaches may also include nausea and sensitivity to light and sound. Migraines can last from several hours up to several days, and little is known about what causes them.
While symptoms and frequency can vary from person to person, there is no doubt that migraines are widespread. According to the Migraine Research Foundation:
Worldwide, 1 billion people are affected by migraines
In the U.S. alone 39 million people of all ages are affected by migraines.
It is the 3rd most common illness in the world.
Approximately 90% of migraine sufferers have a family history of migraines.
While migraines, what causes them and how to treat them are still relatively unknown, researchers are beginning to learn more. That includes surprising links between migraines and hearing loss.
Migraines and hearing loss
Migraine sufferers may be focused on getting through their most recent attack and avoiding the next, but some of the latest research indicates they should also be scheduling a hearing evaluation. That’s right. Studies are showing that migraines come with an increased risk of developing various kinds of hearing impairment including hearing loss, sudden sensorineural hearing loss (SSHL) and tinnitus.
One study, published in the Journal of Otolaryngology in 2012, found that “nearly two-thirds of patients with a migraine had one or more abnormalities in electrophysiological testing.” In everyday language, this means that changes had occurred in the crucial inner workings of the ear, and those changes had negatively impacted hearing. Based on these results, researchers hypothesized that “it is possible that a migraine could be accompanied by compromise of blood supply of the auditory system.” It’s no secret that the inner ear relies heavily on steady blood flow to maintain healthy hearing. Without good blood flow, structures such as the “hair cells” of the inner ear that pick up and transmit sound vibrations become damaged and hearing loss is the result.
It’s not just a steady loss of hearing over time that migraine sufferers have to worry about. The population is also at higher risk for conditions such as sudden sensorineural hearing loss (SSHL) and tinnitus. Published results of a review of the Taiwan Longitudinal Health Insurance Database 2005, concluded that “the risk of cochlear disorders, especially tinnitus, was significantly higher among the cohort with a history of migraines.” A similar study out of Taiwan concluded that “migraine is associated with an increased risk of idiopathic SSNHL,” a rare condition in itself.
What you can do
If you or someone you know suffers from migraines, it is more important than ever to get regular hearing evaluations to monitor hearing health. Work with your physician to manage your migraines and work with your hearing healthcare provider to manage your hearing and help prevent hearing loss.