Can migraine damage the inner ear?

Arch Neurol. 2000 Nov;57(11):1631-4. doi: 10.1001/archneur.57.11.1631.


Background: Auditory and vestibular symptoms and signs are common in patients with migraine, yet little is known about the pathogenesis of these symptoms and signs.

Objective: To perform clinicopathological correlation in a patient with migraine, sudden deafness, and delayed endolymphatic hydrops.

Methods: A patient with long-standing migraine with aura developed sudden hearing loss in the left ear at the age of 50 years and Ménière disease on the right side at age 73. At age 76, he had a flurry of sudden drop attacks typical of otolithic crisis. He died of unrelated causes at age 81. The brain and temporal bones were removed approximately 24 hours after death. The cochlea and vestibular end organs were dissected after the surrounding bone was carefully removed.

Results: The brain and cerebrovasculature were normal. The left cochlea showed prominent fibrosis consistent with an old infarction. The right inner ear showed hydrops, with relatively good preservation of the hair cells in the cochlea, saccular macule, and cristae of the semicircular canals. However, the utricular macule was denuded of hair cells.

Conclusions: The sudden left-sided deafness likely resulted from ischemia, possibly due to migraine-associated vasospasm. Presumably, the right ear suffered only minimal damage when the patient was 50 years old, but this damage later led to the development of delayed endolymphatic hydrops on the right. Otolithic crises are thought to result from pressure changes across the utricular macule. We speculate that loss of hair cells in the utricular macule resulted from a collapse of the utricular membrane onto the macule.

Publication types

  • Case Reports
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Cochlea / pathology
  • Deafness / etiology*
  • Ear, Inner
  • Fibrosis
  • Humans
  • Infarction
  • Ischemia
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Migraine Disorders / complications*
  • Migraine Disorders / pathology