Are you experiencing ringing in your ears along with occasional headaches? If you hear any sounds in your head or ears that don’t exist outside of your head, it is called tinnitus. For some, tinnitus can co-occur with headaches and or migraine headaches. We will explore how ear ringing and headaches are connected, what other symptoms may co-occur, and the treatments available for each of these conditions.
What is Tinnitus?
Tinnitus is an auditory symptom that manifests itself as a ringing, buzzing, hissing, beeping, rushing, roaring, etc. sound in one or both ears when there is no actual external sound present. This noise can be continuous or intermittent and can vary in intensity. It can also range from being barely audible to extremely loud. Most people are able to ignore it while others find it completely debilitating. It is estimated that more than 50 million Americans experience tinnitus.
While the exact cause of tinnitus remains unknown, it is most often linked to hearing loss due to age or exposure to loud noises. One theory of why tinnitus occurs with hearing loss compares tinnitus to phantom limb. The exact cause of phantom limb syndrome is not known, but some evidence suggests it may be due to changes in the way the brain processes information. Essentially, when the brain does not receive sensory signals from a particular limb, it registers a phantom presence instead. This can lead to sensations of tingling, burning or even pain in the affected limb – even though it is no longer there. Audiologists suspect that when the brain is not receiving the correct information from the ear, or a lack of sound in certain frequencies, it may create sound where there is none.
What Is a Headache?
A headache is generally caused by tension or stress, dehydration, or lack of sleep. It usually manifests as pain on both sides of the head, behind the eyes, or near the temples and can last anywhere from 30 minutes to several hours. In general, it’s not uncommon for most people to experience mild headaches every now and then – especially when they are under stress or haven’t had enough rest. Fortunately, these types of headaches can typically be managed with stress management or over-the-counter painkillers like ibuprofen or acetaminophen.
What are Migraine Headaches?
Migraines are severe headaches that can cause throbbing pain on one side of the head, nausea and vomiting, sensitivity to light and sound, visual disturbances such as flashing lights or blind spots, dizziness or vertigo, difficulty concentrating, fatigue, confusion, neck pain and stiffness. They often occur in clusters over several days at a time. The exact cause of migraines is unknown, but it is believed to be related to changes in brain activity caused by chemical imbalances.
Tinnitus and Migraine headaches co-occurring
Research has found that people who suffer from migraine headaches are more likely than those without migraines to experience tinnitus. Furthermore, those who suffer from frequent migraine attacks are even more likely than those with less frequent attacks to experience tinnitus symptoms such as ringing or buzzing noises in their ears. This suggests that there may be an underlying connection between tinnitus and migraines although further research is needed to confirm this link definitively.
Explanations for Causes
The exact cause of why these two conditions occur together remains unknown but there are several theories about why they may be connected. One theory suggests that the same areas of the brain that process sound also control pain pathways in the body; therefore, any disruption in those pathways could lead to both conditions occurring simultaneously. Another theory suggests that tinnitus triggers migraines due to its disruptive nature; when people with existing migraine conditions hear a persistent buzzing sound in their ears, it may trigger an attack or exacerbate existing symptoms.
Central Sensitization in Migraines and Tinnitus
A third theory involves central sensitization (CS). Both migraine headaches and tinnitus have been linked to central sensitization. Central sensitization occurs when the central nervous system becomes overly sensitive due to repeated stimulation or injury. This increased sensitivity results in an amplified response to certain stimuli (such as sound) which can lead to symptoms such as headaches or ringing in the ears. The brain has a drive to overcompensate, and this overcompensation occurring to an injury of the brain or ears could be the cause of migraines and tinnitus. While both conditions have different symptoms, they share this common underlying factor which explains why there is a link between them.
Other Symptoms May Co-Occur with Headache and Tinnitus
Besides migraines, other symptoms have been observed in patients who suffer from both tinnitus and headaches. These include depression, insomnia, anxiety, fatigue, cognitive issues such as difficulty concentrating or memory loss—all of which can make living with these conditions even more challenging
If you experience sounds like ringing in your ears or head, you should have a full diagnostic hearing evaluation by an Audiologist to rule out any serious underlying conditions. When the evaluation is completed by an Audiologist specializing in tinnitus, it will include a very thorough medical case history. A detailed case history will help the Audiologist pinpoint possible underlying health conditions creating or contributing to chronic tinnitus. A full diagnostic test should include testing your ability to hear soft sounds, soft speech, and normal or loud speech and testing your tolerance to loud sounds. In addition, it may include testing the eardrum with a pressure test, the hearing nerve’s reflexes, function of outer hair cells of ears, your ability to understand in background noise, tinnitus matching of pitch and loudness and our ability to mask over your tinnitus. Tinnitus questionnaires may be included in order to assess the daily effect and psychological distress associated with tinnitus.
Including all the tests above will study the function of the middle ear, inner ear, and central auditory pathway. Tests of tinnitus will give information about subjective tinnitus reaction and help guide the hearing healthcare provider towards an appropriate sound management protocol. The Audiologist specializing in tinnitus diagnosis and management will have a variety of other health professionals you might be referred to, based on the findings of the case history plus the diagnostic results.
Treatments for Tinnitus
There are several treatments available for both tinnitus and headaches if they become too difficult to manage on their own. The first step in treating tinnitus is to try to narrow down the underlying cause of tinnitus. This could be ear disease, hearing loss, noise exposure, ear infections, sinus infection, TMJ, cardiovascular issues, upper cervical muscular-skeletal issues, concussion/TBI, stress, or medication side effects. Next, we work to treat the underlying condition. The most common treatment for tinnitus is using hearing aids or masking devices which can help reduce its intensity by providing background noise which helps mask out the ringing sounds associated with this condition. Other treatments include Progressive Tinnitus Management (PTM) or Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT). Progressive Tinnitus Management uses sound from technology to mix with the tinnitus and counseling techniques to help the patient move the tinnitus from conscious to subconscious. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy involves counseling sessions aimed at helping individuals cope better with their condition through relaxation techniques such as mindfulness meditation or yoga; dietary changes; biofeedback therapy; acupuncture; nutritional supplements; lifestyle modifications such as reducing stress levels; regular exercise programs; and when necessary medications like antidepressants or anticonvulsants all depending on individual cases.
Treatment for Migraines
Keep Track of Your Triggers One of the best ways to help prevent a migraine headache is by keeping track of your triggers. Every individual is different, and what may trigger one person may not trigger another. Common triggers for migraines include stress, hormones, sleep deprivation, dehydration, weather changes, certain foods or drinks (e.g., caffeine or alcohol), or exposure to bright lights or loud noises. Keeping track of your activities and how you feel before a migraine occurs can help you identify potential triggers and avoid them in the future. Managing stress levels is one of the most common triggers for migraines. If stress is causing your headaches, it’s important to manage your stress levels as much as possible.
Preventing Tinnitus with Headaches
There are some steps that people with either condition can take to reduce their risk of developing tinnitus: avoiding loud environments (especially concerts), wearing protective ear plugs when exposed to noise for long periods of time (such as when using power tools), minimizing stress levels where possible by adopting relaxation techniques like yoga or meditation; managing any underlying medical conditions (such as diabetes and TMJ) which could contribute towards developing tinnitus; avoiding certain medications if possible; quitting smoking; eating a healthy balanced diet; getting regular exercise; and ensuring adequate sleep hygiene by going to bed at the same time each night and waking up at the same time each morning). Taking these steps might help reduce your risk of developing tinnitus due to migraines or other headache disorders.
Migraines can be triggered by certain lifestyle factors such as stress or diet changes. Making lifestyle modifications may help decrease the frequency and severity of migraine attacks in some cases.
Lifestyle changes for tinnitus and headache management
Many management strategies for tinnitus, headaches and migraines overlap. Stress management and good sleep hygiene are two lifestyle modifications shown to be beneficial in managing all three health conditions.
Developing healthy habits such as exercising regularly and eating well-balanced meals can help reduce stress levels. Incorporating yoga, deep breathing, meditation, tapping (emotional freedom technique) or other relaxation methods can significantly reduce stress. Some find that regular massage, chiropractic work for upper cervical tension or acupuncture can reduce the negative effects of stress and increase relaxation. It’s important to make time for yourself each day so that you can relax and unwind from the daily stresses of life.
Good sleep hygiene might be one of the most underrated techniques for reducing stress and having a positive effect on overall health. First, it’s important to establish a regular sleeping schedule and stick to it. Going to bed and waking up at the same time every day helps set your body’s internal clock, which can make falling asleep easier. Second, create a bedtime routine. This could include things like taking a warm bath or shower, reading a book, or meditating. A relaxing bedtime routine will help you wind down and prepare your body and mind for sleep. Third, create a comfortable sleep environment. Ensure that your bedroom is dark, and at a comfortable temperature. Block out any noise from outside, use blackout curtains to keep the room dark, and turn down the thermostat if it’s too warm for comfort. Add soft relaxing sound which is easy for your brain to ignore such as white noise from a fan or humidifier or use an AP or CD to create ocean sounds or the sound or rainfall. Avoid music with lyrics, TV or the radio as your ears never stop hearing and therefore the brain is processing words and lyrics. Finally, limit your exposure to screens before bedtime. Avoid using electronic devices such as cell phones and tablets for at least an hour before going to bed or try glasses with blue light filters to reduce the negative effect of blue light on your sleep.
By taking steps to decrease stress and increase REM sleep, you might be reducing the symptoms or the negative effects of tinnitus, headaches, and migraines.
When to see a doctor?
If you experience debilitating headaches or a change in your migraine headaches, it is important to discuss this with your primary care physician. If you experience sudden onset of tinnitus, tinnitus in just one ear, debilitating tinnitus, sudden onset of hearing loss or ear pain, it is important to see either an Audiologist or an Otolaryngolgist (ENT doctor) immediately.
If you are experiencing ringing in your ears along with occasional headaches, it’s important not to ignore them since they could be signs of a more serious underlying issue such as high blood pressure or diabetes – so see your doctor immediately if you suspect something isn’t right! Your headaches and tinnitus might be managed by the same lifestyle changes. See your primary physician for chronic headaches and see your Audiologist for chronic tinnitus. There are numerous treatment options available for tinnitus now that weren’t available before. Get checked out by an Audiologist today!