The Link Between Migraines and Tinnitus

Buzzing or ringing in your ears could be related to your episodes

Symptoms are your body's way of telling you something isn't right, and tinnitus—a ringing, buzzing, clicking, or whistling sound in your ears that's not related to anything external—has many causes. It can also be one of the many symptoms of a migraine.

Illustration of the path of sound in the ear
 JACOPIN / BSIP / Getty Images

Understanding Tinnitus

Ear ringing or buzzing is actually a common experience, affecting about 10 percent of the population. There are around 200 distinct health conditions that can cause tinnitus, according to the American Tinnitus Association. Some common ones include age-related hearing loss, severe nasal or sinus congestion, excessive ear wax, temporomandibular joint (TMJ) disorder, and a prior history of head and neck trauma.

Though not common, there are some serious causes of a headache with tinnitus, like a tumor or a carotid artery dissection, which is a tear in the wall of your artery. If you're having tinnitus, it's important to see your healthcare provider so they can rule these out.

The Link Between Migraines and Tinnitus

You may be wondering how your tinnitus (which seems like an ear problem) relates to your migraines (a brain problem). Scientific research on this points to a state of heightened sensitivity as a possible reason for this potential connection, though there may be others.

Here's what the research shows.

Migraineurs Are More Likely to Have or Develop Tinnitus

One study found a link between tinnitus and migraines in 1,645 French students with migraines. The study participants with migraines were more likely to also have tinnitus than those without a history of headaches. Interestingly, the link was stronger for those who experienced migraine with aura than for those who had migraine without aura.

Furthermore, a 2018 study found that having migraines was associated with a more than three times higher risk of developing tinnitus. Migraineurs were also found to have nearly three times higher risk of developing other cochlear disorders than those without migraines.


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Laterality and Severity Seem to Correlate

Another study sought to further understand the relationship between migraine and tinnitus by looking at nearly 200 participants with tinnitus and migraines. The researchers found a significant association between tinnitus and headache laterality, meaning that a person with tinnitus in the right ear tended to also have head pain on the right side, and the same went for the left side.

In addition, the severity of tinnitus and headache coincided in nearly half of the participants. So when their head pain became more severe, their tinnitus did too, and vice versa.

Central sensitization may explain the tinnitus-migraine link. Central sensitization occurs when your brain and spinal cord develop a heightened sensitivity to things that should hurt, like a needle prick, and things that shouldn't hurt, like a regular touch.

Central Sensitization in Migraines and Tinnitus

In migraines, scientists believe that pain fibers that originate from the trigeminal nerve, which is the largest cranial nerve, release inflammatory peptides like substance P and calcitonin gene-related peptide (CGRP). These peptides could cause the throbbing pain associated with a migraine.

After repeated migraine attacks, central sensitization may occur, which could be the trigger for the development of tinnitus.

Research shows that headaches tend to precede tinnitus which supports this theory. Or there could be a totally different factor that we don't know about yet that's triggering both migraines and tinnitus.

All in all, experts aren't sure yet why there's a connection between migraine and tinnitus. Research suggests the combined occurrence of head pain and ear ringing likely has a biological basis. In other words, it's not just a coincidence. 

Treatment Options

Tinnitus can affect people in different ways. For some, it may be just a mild annoyance, while for others it can be quite debilitating and contribute to social isolation, increased stress levels, sleep disturbances, and anxiety.

While there is no cure at this time, the good news is that if you have tinnitus, it can be effectively treated. The treatment strategy your healthcare provider chooses will ultimately depend on your unique case and what's causing your tinnitus, so what works for someone else may not be right for you.

In some cases, an effective migraine treatment plan may help relieve tinnitus.

A Word From Verywell

If you have tinnitus and migraines, the science thus far indicates that there's a link, possibly central sensitization. Treating one may help the other, especially if the therapy targets a shared mechanism of how your migraine and tinnitus developed in the first place. 

Research also shows that having a headache disorder, like migraine, can play a big role in how tinnitus impairs your quality of life. So even if treating your migraines doesn't lessen the physical burden of your tinnitus, it may lessen the psychological toll the tinnitus takes on your everyday functioning. 

Frequently Asked Questions

  • How is tinnitus treated?

    There are treatments to help manage associated symptoms of tinnitus, such as hearing aids for those who experience hearing loss and sound therapies to train your brain to counteract your perception of tinnitus. Someone with tinnitus may also benefit from behavioral therapy to manage the emotional toll that this condition sometimes inflicts. There is medication to help treat some of the associated side effects as well.

  • How common is tinnitus?

    About 15% of the American population experiences tinnitus.

  • How common are migraines?

    It is estimated that about 12% of Americans have migraines.

12 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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  2. Karadaş O, Ipekdal IH, Meteoğlu A, Gül LH. [Progressive carotid artery dissection causing tinnitus and one-sided head and neck pain]. Kulak Burun Bogaz Ihtis Derg. 2011;21(4):237-40. doi:10.5606/kbbihtisas.2011.034

  3. Guichard E, Montagni I, Tzourio C, Kurth T. Association between headaches and tinnitus in young adults: cross-sectional study. Headache. 2016;56(6):987-94. doi:10.1111/head.12845

  4. Hwang JH, Tsai SJ, Liu TC, Chen YC, Lai JT. Association of tinnitus and other cochlear disorders with a history of migraines. JAMA Otolaryngol Head Neck Surg. 2018;144(8):712-717. doi:10.1001/jamaoto.2018.0939

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  6. Institute for Chronic Pain. What is central sensitization?

  7. Underwood, E. FDA just approved the first drug to prevent migraines. Here’s the story of its discovery—and its limitations. Science.

  8. Langguth B, Hund V, Busch V, et al. Tinnitus and headache. Biomed Res Int. 2015;2015:797416. doi:10.1155/2015/797416

  9. American Tinnitus Association. Impact of tinnitus.

  10. American Tinnitus Association. Treatment options.

  11. American Tinnitus Association. Understanding the facts.

  12. Cleveland Clinic. Migraine headaches.

Additional Reading

By Colleen Doherty, MD
 Colleen Doherty, MD, is a board-certified internist living with multiple sclerosis.