UK scientists have tackled the common belief that caffeine causes or exacerbates tinnitus, or ringing in the ears. They found that cutting out coffee, tea, cola and chocolate may make the symptoms worse.
For many years, it has been widely believed that caffeine aggravates tinnitus, with many doctors advising their patients to avoid its consumption. But as there is a lack of experimental evidence to support this theory, researchers from Bristol University, UK took a closer look.
Dr. Lindsay St. Claire and colleagues carried out a detailed analysis of the effects of caffeine withdrawal and abstinence on tinnitus symptoms, which can include rushing, roaring, banging, and whistling sounds.
The team recruited 66 volunteers with tinnitus, who usually consumed at least 150mg of caffeine per day from tea or coffee. For 30 days, they were either given their usual caffeine consumption followed by phased withdrawal, or phased withdrawal followed by reintroduction then usual caffeine consumption.
Participants were not told when they were given caffeine and when they were given placebo. A brief record of tinnitus symptoms and caffeine withdrawal symptoms was kept twice per day, and the Tinnitus Questionnaire was completed at three time points during the study: at the start, on day 15, and on day 30, in order to measure the effect of withdrawal. Results appear in the International Journal of Audiology.
“Caffeine had no effect on tinnitus severity,” the researchers state. They report that the mean difference between caffeinated and decaffeinated days was less than half a per cent on the Tinnitus Severity index.
While the participants had significant adverse symptoms from caffeine withdrawal, “no evidence was found to justify caffeine abstinence as a therapy to alleviate tinnitus,” they write. But the experts point out that acute effects of caffeine withdrawal might add to the burden of tinnitus.
This is the first study of its kind to look at the effect of caffeine consumption on tinnitus. Its aim was to provide evidence for therapeutic practice to the tinnitus community.
Dr. St. Claire says, “With almost 85 percent of adults in the world consuming caffeine daily, we wanted to challenge the claim that caffeine makes tinnitus worse. Many professionals support caffeine withdrawal as a tinnitus therapy, even though there is a lack of any relevant evidence, and, in fact, acute symptoms of caffeine withdrawal might even make tinnitus worse.
“Many other dietary restrictions are claimed to alleviate tinnitus without the support from controlled studies. Further work in this area would be of great benefit to people with tinnitus and their clinicians.”
The work was funded by a 55,000 UK pound ($90,000 U.S.) grant from the charity Deafness Research UK. On receiving the funding, Dr. St. Claire said, “We are delighted to have the opportunity to carry out a study that has the potential to be of help to so many people. We are particularly keen that people with tinnitus should only go through the trouble of withdrawing from caffeine, if it can be shown that this is of real benefit to them.”
Chief Executive, Vivienne Michael, said, “In the UK alone, we estimate that for over half a million people, tinnitus has a negative effect on their quality of life. For many years, there has been a commonly held belief that caffeine is a major aggravator of tinnitus symptoms although there is very little evidence to support this.
“This new paper reports on a detailed analysis of the effects of caffeine consumption, withdrawal, abstinence and the severity of tinnitus symptoms. It provides the first experimental evidence to challenge the theory that caffeine triggers or aggravates tinnitus.
“This is important research because knowing which chemicals can make tinnitus worse may provide vital clues to discovering drugs that could alleviate the symptoms.”
A 2007 study found that nearly 20 percent of adults between 55 and 65 years old report tinnitus symptoms on a general health questionnaire and 12 percent on more detailed tinnitus-specific questionnaires. Caffeine is consumed daily by approximately 85 percent of all adults around the world.
St. Claire, L. et al. Caffeine abstinence: an ineffective and potentially distressing tinnitus therapy. International Journal of Audiology, Vol. 49, January 2010, pp. 24-29.
Demeester, K. et al. Prevalence of tinnitus and audiometric shape. B-ENT, Vol. 3, Supplement 7, 2007, pp.37-49.