Tinnitus is a condition that causes a high-pitched ringing in the ears. Sometimes, it occurs at the same time as migraine, which is a neurological condition that can cause headaches, nausea, and sometimes, aura.

Aura refers to sensory changes that some people with migraine experience as an episode begins. They can include auditory changes, such as ringing in the ears.

This means that, for some people, temporary ringing in the ears may be the result of migraine rather than being a separate condition.

However, some evidence suggests that people with migraine may also be more likely to develop tinnitus that affects them outside of a migraine episode. They may also be more likely to develop hearing loss.

Tinnitus also commonly occurs in people with other types of headaches and may increase the extent to which headaches reduce quality of life.

Read on to learn about tinnitus and migraine.

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Migraine is a neurological condition that causes moderate-to-severe headaches alongside other symptoms. Tinnitus is also often neurological in nature. The two conditions appear to have links, but researchers are still learning about the connection.

There are several possible connections between tinnitus and migraine. Tinnitus could be a:

Migraine aura

Tinnitus and other auditory sensations can occur as migraine aura, which are sensory changes that around 25% of people experience before a migraine headache.

If the tinnitus is a migraine aura, it will typically last between 5–60 minutes before improving. Other types of aura can also affect vision, taste, and skin sensations.

As a migraine aura, tinnitus may occur alone or alongside other symptoms. For example, someone might experience tinnitus and visual changes, such as seeing spots.

Tinnitus can also occur in people with brainstem aura, which is rare. Doctors previously called this basilar migraine.

Migraine comorbidity

Comorbidities are health conditions that occur together. Research suggests that people with tinnitus may be more vulnerable to migraine, or vice versa.

This may be due to the trigeminal system becoming more sensitive, causing both conditions. The trigeminal system includes the trigeminal nerve, which runs from the ear toward the eyes, nose, and jaw. It is involved in migraine pain.

Other shared risk factors could include neck pain or temporomandibular joint (TMJ) disorder.

Migraine complication

One theory about the link between tinnitus and migraine suggests that migraine itself could cause pulsatile tinnitus (PT) by altering blood vessels in the head. PT is when a person can hear sounds that follow the rhythm of their pulse.

An older 2016 study found that 1.9% of the 1,204 participants had PT and that treating the migraine also improved tinnitus symptoms. However, more research on this is necessary, as only a small number of people in the study experienced both migraine and PT specifically.

Migraine trigger

Some people with migraine can identify specific triggers that cause their symptoms. People can have different migraine triggers — certain sounds may be one type of trigger for some individuals. However, other types are more well-known, such as:

  • stress
  • hormonal fluctuations
  • certain foods
  • sleeping more or less than usual
  • bright light

Tinnitus does not only have links with migraine. People with tinnitus are more likely to report headaches in general than the rest of the population.

Cluster headache

A cluster headache is a type of neurological headache that usually affects just one side of the head. Although tinnitus is not typically a symptom of cluster headaches, people who report tinnitus are more likely to experience cluster headaches.

Tension headache

A 2017 study on tinnitus and headache found tension headaches were less common in people with tinnitus than migraine. The findings showed that 13% of the sample reported experiencing tension headaches.

Referred pain

Referred pain occurs when a problem in one area of the body causes pain in a different area. Sometimes, this can result in headaches and may have links with tinnitus.

For example, people with TMJ disorder, which affects the jaw, may be more likely to experience tinnitus.

Other headaches

In the 2017 study, 33% of people who reported tinnitus and headache had unclassifiable headache types. This means their symptoms did not meet the criteria for any specific headache disorder.

People may experience tinnitus as a complication of many conditions that cause headaches or other neurological symptoms, such as vertigo.

When tinnitus is a symptom or complication of migraine, migraine treatment may help with both conditions.

An ongoing clinical trial is testing the effectiveness of migraine medications for tinnitus. Results of the study are due in late 2022.

Additionally, an older 2016 study found that treatment for migraine helped people who also experienced PT. However, this only applied to 11 out of 16 participants with both conditions.

Larger-scale trials will help scientists understand if migraine medications can help with tinnitus and, if so, which ones work best.

Almost everyone experiences tinnitus at some point, but it becomes a long-term issue for some people. Several factors can contribute to this, including:

  • Noise trauma: A person living or working in a noisy environment may experience hearing loss within a certain range. If they develop tinnitus, they may hear a noise that is within that range. For example, if a person works around noisy machinery, they may hear ringing that is at the same pitch.
  • Medication: Some medications, such as high doses of aspirin, can cause tinnitus as a side effect. The tinnitus may stop if a person stops taking the medication. People should only do this with a doctor’s supervision.
  • Metabolic diseases: Heart disease, diabetes, and hypertension have associations with tinnitus.
  • Ear diseases: Conditions such as Meniere’s disease cause issues in the ear itself. The symptoms include dizziness, vertigo, and tinnitus. Lesions that affect the eighth cranial nerve may have a similar effect.
  • TMJ disorder: This is a disorder of the jaw joint that may lead to anatomical changes inside the ear, resulting in ringing.

Tinnitus and migraine can occur together. People with migraine appear to be more likely to have tinnitus, and people with tinnitus often report migraine and other headache disorders. Tinnitus itself can be a symptom of migraine if a person experiences ringing in the ears as a temporary aura.

Doctors do not fully understand the relationship between tinnitus and migraine. Research into these neurological conditions is ongoing. In the meantime, some people may find that effectively treating or managing their migraine helps lessen tinnitus symptoms or improve their quality of life.