The day does not begin without a morning dose of caffeine for all the coffee lovers out there.
The question, however, is whether or not caffeine is okay for those with tinnitus symptoms? Does caffeine cause or worsen tinnitus and hearing loss? Does diet have any role to play in tinnitus?
We will discuss these questions surrounding caffeine and tinnitus in the following article.
Does Caffeine Cause Tinnitus?
Prospective and retrospective studies show that caffeine consumption does play a role in tinnitus. In fact, in people with no pre-existing tinnitus, it prevents the condition. However, in those with tinnitus, it can worsen the situation.
Evidence of Caffeine and Tinnitus
Tinnitus affects approximately 50 million Americans, and ringing of the ears severely disables about 3 million of them. That represents a significant number of people who cannot work and enjoy daily life all due to a symptom that may be preventable in some cases.
Caffeine in Preventing Tinnitus
Limited studies are showing the prospective relationship between caffeine and tinnitus. Therefore, a few scientists decided to conduct their study, following 65,085 women between 30-44 from 1991 to 2009.
They charted their caffeine intake throughout the study in coffee and other beverages like Pepsi, tea, and various cola beverages. After 18 years of observation, 5289 of the women studied developed tinnitus.
Researchers also found an inverse relationship between caffeine and tinnitus: those who consumed over 600 mg of caffeine per day had a reduced chance of tinnitus.
The higher the intake of caffeine showed an association with a lower risk of tinnitus. It is important to note that the coffee drinkers also smoked, had stress, and drank alcohol.
These findings were among caucasian women. Unfortunately, no similar studies were conducted on men or among people of other races in the US.
A national population-based survey conducted in Korea revealed similar results. The Korean National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey researched 13,448 participants from 2009–2012. Doctors found an inverse relationship between caffeine and tinnitus, especially in the age group of 40-64.
Instant coffee drinkers between 40-64 years of age had less tinnitus and temporary hearing loss. Other groups, who drank different types of coffee, fared worse. In this observational study, even the kind of coffee was significant.
Researchers found that brewed coffee could prevent tinnitus and hearing loss. Alternatively, canned coffee contributes to tinnitus, which may be attributed to the coffee’s heating, freezing, or treatment that affects coffees’ bioactive compounds.
Caffeine in Worsening Tinnitus
In people who had previously never had tinnitus, caffeine prevented tinnitus.
However, this effect was the opposite in those with pre-existing tinnitus, with more caffeine worsening tinnitus. When respondents who drank 150-300 ml of coffee daily reduced their consumption, their symptoms improved.
Caffeine has also been noted to impair the healing of noise-induced hearing loss and has been shown to increase blood pressure. Another study in guinea pigs showed that caffeine delayed healing from noise-induced injury.
While these studies are adequate, they are not complete. Large-scale controlled human studies are needed, and future studies should investigate the causal relationship between caffeine and tinnitus.
How Does Caffeine Affect the Ear?
Coffee has four bioactive compounds, and caffeine itself is just one of them, and together these compounds have very complex acute effects on the human body.
Caffeine affects calcium levels in the vestibular system receptors. Some researchers suggest that caffeine displaces large volumes of fluid in the ear, and very few people can regulate and recycle this fluid. For these people, the fluid remains and affects hearing.
Caffeine also causes vasoconstriction or constriction of the blood vessels. In the ear, these tiny blood vessels can not then transport oxygen and nutrients to the inner ear. If there is a primary problem in the ear, drinking coffee worsens it.
Caffeine also affects the central nervous system. However, the American Tinnitus Association has no specific directive regarding this.
To Drink or Not To Drink?
So what should tinnitus patients do? Give up that coffee or start the habit? Does the evidence justify caffeine abstinence?
If you do not have pre-existing tinnitus, there is no need to abstain from caffeine.
The evidence suggests that caffeine may even prevent tinnitus, especially in people with no pre-existing tinnitus and consume more than 600 mg/day. You may want to consider increasing your daily cups if you have never had tinnitus before. Be mindful that instant coffee and brewed drinks are better, according to research.
However, if you are a patient who already suffers from tinnitus, you may want to reduce your daily intake to below 150ml per day. If you take any other ototoxic drugs, caffeine may further aggravate tinnitus or worsen medication-induced hearing loss. For example, it is proven that among people who take cisplatin for chemotherapy.
Unfortunately, studies cannot fully understand how caffeine protects or harms the ears. For now, tinnitus sufferers may want to avoid caffeine as it can reduce or y alleviate tinnitus symptoms.
Also, be aware that there are many hidden sources of caffeine. Chocolate, sugary foods, energy drinks, tea, guarana seeds, and beef jerky have caffeine. Even your breath freshener! Certain instant oatmeal brands, alcoholic beverages, migraine drugs, and even decaf coffee contain caffeine.
Be mindful, and read your food labels. It may surprise you just how much caffeine you’re consuming without even knowing.
This article also does not provide medical advice and is meant to create awareness.
What is Life Without Caffeine?
Life may be better when it starts with a great cup of coffee. But, that caffeine fix is all about making the right choice. Your choice to drink or not drink caffeine depends on whether or not you already suffer from tinnitus.
- 1. Glicksman JT, Curhan SG, Curhan GC. A prospective study of caffeine intake and risk of incident tinnitus. Am J Med. 2014;127(8):739-743. doi:10.1016/j.amjmed.2014.02.033
- 2. Lee SY, Jung G, Jang MJ, et al. Association of Coffee Consumption with Hearing and Tinnitus Based on a National Population-Based Survey. Nutrients. 2018;10(10):1429. Published 2018 Oct 4. doi:10.3390/nu10101429
- 3. Dawes, Piers1,2; Cruickshanks, Karen J.3; Marsden, Antonia4; Moore, David R.1,2,5; Munro, Kevin J.1,2 Relationship Between Diet, Tinnitus, and Hearing Difficulties, Ear and Hearing: March/April 2020 – Volume 41 – Issue 2 – p 289-299 doi: 10.1097/AUD.0000000000000765