Does a cup a day keep the tinnitus away?

Caffeine: Your Partner in Hearing Health

If you can’t start your day without coffee or tea, you’re not alone: According to the FDA, 80 percent of U.S. adults consume caffeine every day. Studies have linked moderate caffeine consumption with a lowered risk of stroke and some cancers, and it has long been touted as an aid to memory and concentration. But what do the experts say about caffeine and hearing health?

Tinnitus

It was long considered a given that caffeine plays a role in the development of tinnitus, but an August 2014 article in The American Journal of Medicine reports otherwise. Results from an 18-year study involving 65,085 women indicated that caffeine intake actually lowered the risk of developing tinnitus, and a greater consumption of caffeine translated to an even lower risk of tinnitus. Though the reason behind the connection is unclear, they did offer that caffeine both stimulates the central nervous system and directly affects the inner ear.

Short-Term Hearing Loss

Short-term hearing loss is what you experience when exposed to a loud concert, a firing range, or some other loud, sudden noise — a reduced ability to hear, often coupled with a perceived ringing. It can last as little as a few hours or as long as several days, and recently it was shown that caffeine can make it worse, possibly permanent.

A study in the April 2016 issue of JAMA Otolaryngology–Head & Neck Surgery reported that gerbils exposed briefly to noise mimicking a loud concert (about 110 dB) still suffered hearing loss 15 days later if given caffeine daily, but gerbils exposed to the same noise but given no caffeine almost fully recovered their hearing by 15 days later. (Gerbils not exposed to the noise but given caffeine for 15 days suffered no hearing loss at all.)

These results don’t necessarily mean you should cut out the coffee. Rather, they underscore the importance of preventive hearing care measures. Wearing earplugs — or better yet, custom-fit hearing protection — in places you know will expose your ears to loud noise keeps your ears from being damaged in the first place, so you don’t need to recover from short-term hearing loss. So go ahead, pour another cup.

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Sources:
U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Medicines in My Home: Caffeine and Your Body.
https://www.fda.gov/downloads/UCM200805.pdf%20(Accessed%20May%2006. Accessed Feb. 23, 2017.
Gallup. American’s Coffee Consumption Is Steady, Few Want to Cut Back. http://www.gallup.com/poll/184388/americans-coffee-consumption-steady-few-cut-back.aspx. Accessed Feb. 23, 2017.
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.
Zawawi F, Bezdjian A, Mujica-Mota M, et al. Association of caffeine and hearing recovery after acoustic overstimulation events in a guinea pig model. JAMA Otolaryngol Head Neck Surg. 2016;142(4):383–388.