Tinnitus & migraine

Tinnitus: Is It Related to Migraine?

Some of the most challenging aspects of migraine have nothing to do with headaches. One of those annoying symptoms is tinnitus. All that buzzing and whooshing can make it difficult to concentrate. The key to treating it lies in its cause. However, tinnitus can manifest as a symptom of many headache disorders, complications, side effects of treatments, and even comorbid conditions. Ruling out all the scary stuff (or getting it diagnosed and treated) can take a long time.

When do I experience tinnitus?

During a migraine attack, my ears ring. They start ringing in the prodrome up to 2 days before the headache begins, and continue to ring until the postdrome is finished. When my ears stop ringing, I know an attack has ended. Fortunately for me, tinnitus is simply a symptom of a migraine attack. That isn't the case for everyone.

Tinnitus can take many forms. Sometimes it is a symptom of migraine, and sometimes it is something else.

When can it occur with migraine?

If you have been diagnosed with migraine with aura or migraine with brainstem aura, tinnitus may be an auditory aura. If you experience vertigo and/or dizziness with tinnitus during a migraine attack, you might be experiencing migraine-associated vertigo. Sometimes tinnitus can accompany photophobia, phonophobia, nausea, and vomiting as one of many associated symptoms during a migraine attack. In rare cases, tinnitus accompanies migrainous infarction.

What else can cause it?

Then there are other conditions with similar symptom profiles that can be mistaken for migraine.

  • Tinnitus is also present with idiopathic intercranial hypertension and Arnold-Chiari malformation.
  • Post-trauma headaches often include symptoms of tinnitus, vertigo, dizziness, nausea, and vomiting.
  • Some medications can cause tinnitus. Read the inserts carefully on antibiotics, cancer medications, antidepressants, NSAIDs, and diuretics.
  • Tumors of the head and neck can also cause tinnitus.
  • Patients with TMJ may experience tinnitus, too.
  • Meniere's disease presents with symptoms of tinnitus, vertigo, and transient hearing loss in one ear.
  • Cardiovascular problems such as high blood pressure, atherosclerosis, arteriovenous malformation, etc., can cause you to hear the whooshing sound of blood pumping through the blood vessels of the head and neck.
  • Sometimes tinnitus is caused by a buildup of earwax. A simple in-office procedure can quickly correct this problem.
  • Smoking increases the risk of developing tinnitus.
  • Hearing loss should also be considered if tinnitus is persistent. A simple hearing test will confirm or rule this out. Exposure to loud noises can damage tiny sensory hair cells in the ear, triggering tinnitus, even if there is no hearing loss.

When all else has been ruled out, your doctor may tell you that you have primary tinnitus. That simply means that you have the symptom, but no cause can be found.

Why should you see your doctor?

As you can see, there are many reasons to discuss tinnitus with your doctor. Hopefully, you're one of the lucky ones for whom tinnitus is a transient symptom such as aura or associated migraine symptoms. Even so, your doctor will want to rule out other problems before passing it off as just one more crazy migraine symptom. Tinnitus can be very difficult to treat, so the sooner you get a diagnosis, the better your chances are of finding relief.

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