Contributed by Debbie Clason, staff writer, Healthy Hearing
Having an annual hearing evaluation is a good idea no matter how well you are hearing, but if you suffer from migraine headaches it may be even smarter to keep close tabs on your hearing health. Studies show that those who suffer from migraine headaches have an increased risk of developing hearing loss than those who do not. Other studies indicate migraine sufferers are also twice as likely to suffer from sudden sensorineural hearing loss (SSHL), although the overall risk is still low (one study found roughly 1% of migraine sufferers typically experience it).
What are migraines?
According to the National Institutes of Health, about 12 percent of Americans suffer from migraine, a neurological disease characterized by episodes known as migraine attacks. A migraineur’s brain is biochemically different than the brain of a person without this disease, which can be genetic and typically affects more women than men. Although migraine attacks are known as primary headaches, their symptoms differ from regular headaches. The most common symptoms are:
- Throbbing, pulsating pain
- Light sensitivity
- Sound sensitivity
- Pain on one side
- Vision changes
- Aura (seeing bright spots, flashes or zigzag lines)
Migraines can last anywhere from 4 hours to several days. Symptoms and triggers vary according to the individual.
Migraines and hearing loss
So what does a neurological disease have to do with your hearing? Plenty, according to a study by researchers in Egypt’s Assiut University Hospital’s Department of Neurology and Psychology. Their findings were published in the July-August 2012 issue of the American Journal of Otolaryngology.
Using electrophysiological testing, they looked at the function of the cochlea and auditory pathways of migraineurs compared to those who did not have the disease and discovered that two-thirds of the migraineurs had one or more abnormalities. Testing included the otoacoustic emissions test (OAE), which measures the echo produced by the vibrations of hair cells in the cochlea when it’s stimulated, and the auditory brainstem response (ABR) test, which measures the brain’s response to sound. The researchers hypothesize these abnormalities could be a result of compromised blood supply to the auditory system due to the migraine attacks.
This is significant because the sensory hair cells in the cochlea depend on healthy circulation to function properly. A decrease in circulation could eventually cause these hair cells to become damaged or die, causing sensorineural hearing loss.
Migraines and sudden sensorineural hearing loss
Additionally, a study by researchers from Taipei Veterans General Hospital in Taiwan found that migraineurs are nearly twice as likely to develop a rare condition known as sudden sensorineural hearing loss (SSHL). Individuals affected by this condition typically experience an unexplained, rapid loss of hearing in one or both ears, which may occur immediately or over the course of several days.
Sudden hearing loss is considered a medical emergency and requires immediate care.
According to the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders (NIDCD), experts estimate SSHL only affects one in 5,000 each year. Typically, these are adults between the ages of 40-50; a cause for the condition is identifiable in only 10-15 percent of the reported cases.
Treatment plans for migraines vary according to the individual as well as the severity and frequency of pain. Experts recommend you keep a journal of your migraines and all of your symptoms so your migraine specialist can make an appropriate diagnosis.
In the event you experience sudden loss of hearing, seek help immediately at an emergency medical facility. If you are diagnosed with migraine disease, make sure your treatment plan includes an annual hearing test with a hearing healthcare professional who is aware of your condition and can monitor your hearing health accordingly. Visit our directory for clinics near you.