In this article:
- What is tinnitus?
- Brief review of how the ear works
- Can hypothyroidism cause ringing in the ears?
- How is tinnitus treated in people with hypothyroidism?
The thyroid gland is a butterfly-shaped organ situated at the nape of your neck. Although small in size, this organ plays an influential role in regulating your body’s metabolism, growth, and development. More specifically, the thyroid produces hormones that control the rate at which your body utilizes energy and protein synthesis. When the thyroid cannot produce enough thyroid hormone to control these processes, it can lead to hypothyroidism, which is characterized by a general slowing of many body functions.
What is tinnitus?
Tinnitus is the medical term for “ringing in the ears.” Although it is not a serious medical condition, it can impact your quality of life. People can experience tinnitus at any point in their lives, especially after exposure to loud noises. Sometimes, tinnitus occurs in healthy people for no apparent reason. In contrast, other times, tinnitus may relate to an underlying medical condition or trauma.
The cause of tinnitus is not well understood. This frustrating symptom may result from dysfunction or damage to the nerves that transmit information between the ears and brain. These nerves are responsible for delivering sound and providing information about balance to the body. However, as you will see below, the ear is a highly complex organ where damage could occur in several places, leading to trouble hearing and persistent noise.
Brief overview of how the ear works
The ear is part of your sensorineural system that delivers information about external sounds and balance. Anatomically, your ear has three key areas that help perform these functions: the external ear, middle ear, and inner ear.
The external ear is the outer portion of your ear that you can see or feel with a Q-tip. (FYI: most doctors will advise against using a QTip as it can irritate your ear, push earwax against the eardrum, or cause damage.) This part of the ear serves to amplify and transmit sounds to the tympanic membrane (eardrum), which is highly sensitive to sound waves and pressure changes.
The middle ear is on the inside of the tympanic membrane. It contains the oval window, eustachian tube, and three small bones: the hammer (malleus), anvil (incus), and stirrup (stapes). Vibrations from the eardrum are transmitted by the small bones in the middle ear to the oval window to amplify sound waves. Meanwhile, the inner ear is also responsible for equalizing pressure. It is where you feel pressure changes when you gain elevation rapidly.
The inner ear is comprised of the labyrinth, cochlea, auditory nerve, and the vestibular. The labyrinth is essentially a maze that contains each of these small organs that transmit sound to your brain and help you detect different body movements. The vestibular, in particular, is responsible for maintaining balance.
Can hypothyroidism cause ringing in the ears?
Along with damage caused by frequent exposure to loud noises, tinnitus can also be from certain medications and medical conditions. For example, tinnitus can be caused by:
- Meniere’s disease
- Head injury
- Multiple sclerosis
- High blood pressure
- Heart disease
People with uncontrolled hypothyroidism can also experience ringing in the ears. While the exact relationship between low thyroid hormones and tinnitus is not clear, it is common for people with untreated hypothyroidism to complain of this frustrating symptom. Indeed, if you see your doctor about tinnitus, they may suggest a thyroid blood test because this symptom is so prevalent, albeit perplexing, in people with low thyroid hormone.
How is tinnitus treated in people with hypothyroidism?
Treating the cause of tinnitus is the key when there is an underlying medical condition. Hypothyroidism requires life-long thyroid hormone replacement medication. After performing a thyroid blood test to look at your thyroid hormones, your doctor will likely put you on a thyroid hormone replacement medication. It can take different doses and a few weeks to months to find the right drug and dosage that best supports your body.
Once you are on the correct amount of medication, you will likely experience a significant improvement in your hypothyroid symptoms, including:
- High blood pressure
- Joint and muscle aches
If you struggle with tinnitus, you will likely also significantly improve this symptom with thyroid medication. It may also help increase your intake of key vitamins and minerals that play a role in thyroid health, including zinc, selenium, vitamin C, vitamin D, and vitamin E.
Some lifestyle habits may cause tinnitus, including excess alcohol consumption, smoking cigarettes, and caffeinated beverages. Chronic stress and anxiety can also cause tinnitus. Try to limit unhealthy habits, manage stress levels, and avoid exposure to loud noises.
Keep in mind that tinnitus is a nebulous symptom that can be caused by several factors. Treating hypothyroidism is an excellent start to improving ringing in your ears. However, if this frustrating symptom persists after treating your thyroid, meet with a doctor specializing in treating tinnitus to learn what may be causing your particular case.