How Can My Ears Impact My Health?

woman with vestibular migraine

The ears can have a surprising impact on overall health. Many people understand that ear and jaw pain are often connected, but did you know that your ears can also cause headaches (specifically vestibular migraines)?

The ears are often forgotten and sometimes neglected because they don’t seem as essential to health as the organs and other body parts. But here is what you should know about how your ears impact your health and how to avoid common problems associated with the ears.  


The Link Between Ear and Jaw Pain

If you’re experiencing ear and jaw pain simultaneously, you could be experiencing various underlying medical conditions. Here are some of the most common conditions known to cause pain in the ears and jaw.

  • Swimmer’s ear: This is a common occurrence when the outer ear becomes infected with bacteria after being exposed to water or after an injury. If left untreated, symptoms can worsen and lead to pain in both the jaw and ear.
  • Temporomandibular joint disorders: TMJ disorders impact the muscles and ligaments surrounding the temporomandibular joint. It is common for both jaw and ear pain to occur due to TMJ disorders.
  • Sinusitis: A condition marked by inflammation and pain in the nasal passages (often due to allergies or illness). People with sinusitis often feel pain in their ears and jaw.
  • Psoriatic or rheumatoid arthritis: Both of these arthritis forms happen when the immune system attacks its own joints. These types of arthritis can cause pain in the temporomandibular joint, leading to jaw and ear pain.
  • Teeth grinding: If you grind your teeth (consciously or subconsciously), you can experience pain in your jaw and ears.
  • Dental issues: Periodontal disease, dental abscesses, and cavities can all lead to jaw and ear discomfort.

In all of these cases, pain and inflammation may continue or worsen without treatment.


Why Ear Problems Can Cause Headaches

It shouldn’t come as a surprise that ear problems and headaches are linked. After all, the internal portion of the ear is located within the temporal bone, where the temporal lobe of the brain is housed.

Ear problems are often associated with a particular type of headache called a vestibular migraine. Other terms for this condition include migrainous vertigo, migraine-associated vertigo, and migraine-related vestibulopathy.


What Is a Vestibular Migraine?

The word “vestibular” refers to the inner ear (where your balance and hearing are controlled). A vestibular migraine is associated with dizziness that may come and go. Vestibular migraines don’t always cause traditional headache pain, but they always cause vertigo.

Symptoms of vestibular migraines include:

  • Balance problems
  • Dizziness (lasting longer than a few minutes)
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Sensitivity to sound
  • Extreme motion sensitivity
  • Disorientation and confusion

Dizziness from a vestibular migraine can occur before the headache sets in. It can also happen during or after the headache.


How to Avoid Vestibular Migraines

You may be able to avoid vestibular migraines by changing your diet to avoid foods that may trigger vestibular migraines. The list of prohibited foods is quite long. Most of the foods on the list contain histamine or tyramine.

Another way to potentially avoid vestibular migraines is to take medications such as calcium channel blockers, beta-blockers, and tricyclic antidepressants. Talk to your doctor to see if any of these treatment options may help you.


Living With Misophonia

Another condition associated with the ears is misophonia. This condition, marked by hatred of certain sounds, may impact as many as 15% of adults. Those with this condition experience extreme sensitivity to selective sounds. Some sounds may be so distressing that you have to leave the room immediately. You may even be compelled to scream at the person making the sound.  


What Are the Symptoms?

Symptoms of misophonia include:

  • Anger or rage when hearing a specific sound
  • Increased heart rate, temperature, and blood pressure when exposed to a triggering sound
  • Feelings of annoyance and disgust toward a particular sound or the person making it
  • Anxious and panicked feelings when hearing triggering sounds
  • Ringing in the ears (also known as tinnitus)

Often, these symptoms appear during the teen or preteen years and continue through adulthood if treatment is not sought.


Coping Strategies

When you have an extreme hatred for certain sounds, it can be challenging to cope when you hear those sounds. But there are things you can do to manage your symptoms so you can live your life as normally as possible. Here are some common coping strategies:

  • Counterconditioning: This treatment involves making a connection between weak sound triggers and happy feelings or memories (such as a loved one’s photo or a favorite song).
  • Tinnitus retraining therapy: During this treatment, affected individuals learn how to tolerate and accept the ringing sounds no one else can hear.
  • Counseling: In some cases, counseling can help affected individuals learn how to deal with emotions caused by triggering sounds.

In addition to these treatments, you may also be able to experience some relief by using noise-canceling headphones, listening to white noise, or politely requesting the person in question to stop making the offending sound.


When To See a Doctor or Audiologist

If you experience any symptoms associated with the above ear conditions, it’s essential to seek help. If you’re experiencing severe pain, fever, or other symptoms of an infection, you should see your doctor. If your ear discomfort is associated with hearing loss or tinnitus, consider making an appointment with an audiologist at one of the Happy Ears Hearing Center locations.