Does caffeine help or hurt tinnitus?

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Recently, a person with tinnitus asked me “Does caffeine affect tinnitus?” Over the years, he’d received both yes and no answers from ear, nose, and throat (ENT) doctors.

Through my research, I’ve come to understand that there isn’t a simple yes-or-no answer to this question.

Tinnitus is a condition in which a person perceives a sound such as ringing, roaring, whooshing, or clicking in one or both ears. The perceived sound can range from acute to chronic, and from annoying to debilitating.

In 2014, some good news came from research at Brigham and Women’s hospital in Boston that drinking coffee may prevent tinnitus. The study, published in the August edition of the American Journal of Medicine, tracked 65,000 women over a period of 18 years and found that those who drank more coffee reduced their odds of developing the condition. These data were not surprising, since our laboratory had found in preclinical animal models that caffeine can prevent noise-induced hearing loss, and hearing loss often leads to tinnitus.

However, researchers have also learned that there are many sub-types of tinnitus. Therefore, people who have different types of tinnitus may respond differently to caffeine. That may help explain the varied answers this tinnitus patient had received from different ENTs.

I am not a medical doctor. Since there are currently no clear answers to this question, if I had tinnitus, I personally would drink a modest amount of caffeine if it made my tinnitus better, and would cut back or stop drinking it entirely if it always made my tinnitus worse (See ATA’s recommendation).

For tinnitus-related information, the two scientific websites that I check out often are: 1. Tinnitus Talk 2. PubMed

Another excellent resource is the American Tinnitus Association, which offers background information on tinnitus as well as updates in the field. In addition, the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders, offers information about government-supported research on tinnitus and other hearing disorders.

The research field of tinnitus is moving rapidly. Hopefully, better answers to this question and other questions, including what causes tinnitus in the first place, will be coming soon.