Migraine attacks aren’t run-of-the-mill headaches. A migraine attack can trigger symptoms like nausea, weakness, and hypersensitivity to light and sound. But what if you’re experiencing migraine and ringing in your ears (tinnitus)?
It’s possible these conditions could be related. Tinnitus can be a symptom of several health issues, but one of the main causes is vestibular migraine. Here’s what you need to know about the connection and what you can do to find relief.
Can migraine cause ringing in your ears?
Yes, a migraine attack can trigger tinnitus or happen alongside it.
Vestibular migraine is the type of migraine that’s most often associated with ringing in your ears. When your ears ring because of vestibular migraine, you might also experience sensitivity to light, vertigo, and pressure in your head and ears.
Vestibular migraine attacks are one of the most common causes of ringing in your ears. This tinnitus + migraine combo affects about 1 to 3 percent of the population. Vestibular migraine is also responsible for up to 30 percent of reported episodes of dizziness.
Scientists still haven’t unearthed the exact link between migraine and tinnitus. But there are a few possible reasons you may hear ringing in your ears during a migraine attack.
1. Altered sensory information processing
Researchers have noticed that more severe headaches seem to lead to tinnitus. This *might* be because your brain is so stressed that it can’t properly process sensory info. Your auditory pathway might try to overcompensate for this. The result? Hearing a ringing or buzzing that’s not actually there.
2. Misfired electric messages
Some experts believe spontaneous abnormal neuron firing is responsible for tinnitus during a migraine attack. Others speculate that it might be a neurological pain response.
3. Other triggers
Sometimes a migraine episode with ear ringing is triggered by outside factors including:
- trouble sleeping
- what you eat
- depression or anxiety
Of course, you can’t *always* blame migraine for those noises in your ear. It’s also possible that tinnitus might indicate another condition.
Remember, different types of migraine can lead to ringing in your ears. Vestibular migraine is just the most common culprit.
Here are some other symptoms of vestibular migraine:
- extreme dizziness
- motion sickness (nausea, vomiting)
- sensitivity to sound
- sensitivity to light
- visual disturbances (like flashing lights, blurry spots, or shimmering lines)
What about an ocular migraine with ringing in ears?
An ocular migraine is a migraine that causes visual disturbances like seeing stars, blurry vision, or even a short visual blackout. It doesn’t typically lead to tinnitus.
Dealing with migraine attacks with ringing in your ears? It’s time to talk with your doctor!
If your doc suspects migraine-related tinnitus, they’ll likely refer you to a neurologist and/or a headache specialist. If your doc thinks your symptoms may be hearing-related, you’ll probably see an ear, nose, and throat doctor (ENT). Sometimes a proper diagnosis takes time, but the process is worth it. Advocate for yourself by clearly stating your needs and symptoms.
What to expect at your appointment
First, you’ll discuss:
- your personal medical history
- your family medical history
- the frequency and severity of your symptoms
Then the doctor will do a physical exam to check your:
- mental clarity
If necessary, your doc might order additional tests (bloodwork, imaging tests, etc.).
Criteria for a vestibular migraine diagnosis
Neurologists use a specific set of diagnostic criteria to determine whether the ringing in your ears is due to vestibular migraine.
You’ll need to check these boxes for that diagnosis:
- current or past migraine episodes
- moderate-to-severe vestibular symptoms that last between 5 minutes and 72 hours
- at least half of your ear ringing episodes occur with a migraine attack, visual disturbances, or sensitivity to light or sound
- at least 5 instances of ringing in your ears (without or without a headache)
How do I know if it’s more than migraine?
Vestibular migraine isn’t the only ear-ringing condition on the planet. You’ll also be checked for these causes of tinnitus:
- early hearing loss
- sinus and ear infection
- Meniere’s disease
- thyroid problems
- some heart or blood vessel diseases
- brain tumor
- fluid leak deep inside your ear
If a neurologist can’t figure out the reason your ears are ringing, they might refer you to an ENT or other specialist.
As always, your treatment plan will depend on your diagnosis and unique circumstances. There’s a mix of pharmacological and nonpharmacological treatments for migraine with ringing in the ears or vestibular migraine attacks of any kind.
Here are some at-home remedies for migraine with tinnitus:
- avoiding migraine triggers like alcohol and caffeine
- eating a low sodium diet
- stress management
- using a white noise machine to relieve tinnitus
- cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT)
And here are some medications your doctor might recommend for frequent migraine episodes with ringing in the ears:
- beta-blockers (like propranolol or metoprolol)
- calcium channel blockers
- tricyclic antidepressants (like amitriptyline)
- SSRIs or SNRIs (like venlafaxine)
If your doctor rules out migraine, you might be prescribed treatment specifically for tinnitus:
- hearing aids
- portable sound generators (available as a wearable or desktop)
- acoustic neural stimulation
- antidepressants or anti-anxiety meds
That’s a tough question. If you’re experiencing tinnitus because of vestibular migraine, your best bet is to avoid migraine triggers.
Here are a few tips to reduce the likelihood of a migraine attack.
- Stick to a healthy sleep schedule.
- Stay hydrated.
- Move your body regularly.
- Avoid salty foods.
- Identify and steer clear of your migraine triggers.
There are meds to help manage chronic tinnitus and vestibular migraine. If your migraine attacks are interfering with your life, talk with your doctor about preventative medications or lifestyle changes.
If you’re experiencing frequent migraine attacks with ringing in your ears, it’s important to see a doctor. There’s no cure for migraine, but there are many treatments to help manage them.
Whether or not you have a migraine diagnosis, an episode of tinnitus warrants a call to your doctor. They can help you pinpoint the cause and recommend treatments for the tinnitus itself.
It’s not uncommon to experience a migraine with ringing in your ears. But that doesn’t mean you should suffer in silence.
If frequent migraine episodes with tinnitus are impacting your quality of life, talk with your doctor. A proper diagnosis could help you access a range of treatment options that bring relief.