The Gut’s Influence On Tinnitus And Hearing

Woman cooking

Gut health has enjoyed a surge in interest in recent years, with links to a host of disorders and conditions that may seem entirely unrelated. Nevertheless, gut dysbiosis contributes to numerous conditions, which may or may not include tinnitus and other conditions that affect the ears and hearing. So what exactly is gut health, gut dysbiosis, and how does it impact the inner ear and general ear function? We will take a deeper dive into each of these questions, and determine the most likely links between the gut microbiome and general health.

What Is Gut Health?

This particular term refers to the gut microbiome, or the presence of bacteria and yeast within the gastrointestinal system. Maintaining balance within the microbiome functions as the foundation for overall health, as the majority of the immune system lives within the gut, and maintaining a healthy balance means supporting immunity and living in a synergistic relationship with bacterial and yeast species. With 70-80% of the immune system found in the gut, it is imperative to support gastrointestinal health.

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If someone is described as having a healthy gut, that likely means that the “good” bacteria, the “bad” bacteria, and yeast found in the GI system are all in balance. When someone’s gut is unhealthy, gut microbiota dysbiosis or gut dysbiosis occurs. Gut dysbiosis contributes to a host of conditions, many of them not directly related to the gut–at least, not at first glance. From neurological function and brain health, to staving off colds in winter, the healthy (and unhealthy) inflammatory process of illness and bodily damage often begins in the gut.

Signs or Symptoms of Bad Gut Health/Gut Microbiota Dysbiosis

Bowl of rainbow candies

Poor health in the gut can present with a truly substantial list of symptoms, but there are a series of symptoms within the GI system that can indicate gut dysbiosis. These symptoms include the following:

  • Upset stomach
  • Gas
  • Bloating
  • Cramping
  • Ongoing nausea
  • Increased cravings for sugar or a high sugar diet
  • Weight changes
  • Difficulty losing weight or abnormal central gain
  • Food intolerances and allergies

Although these are the symptoms most readily associated with the GI tract, there are other symptoms affecting the gut brain axis, the immune system, and even the skin. These additional symptoms frequently present in the following ways:

As you can see, gut dysbiosis plays a significant role in numerous different health conditions and disorders, and people can spend years discussing gut dysbiosis before finally making connections between the gut brain axis and other areas of the body impacted by the health of the GI tract.

The Benefits Of Good Gut Health

A healthy gut is the starting point for general health, as previously stated, but it can do far more than encourage a general healthy state. Instead, a healthy gut has been linked to reduced risk factors for diabetes, autoimmune disorders like psoriatic arthritis, Hashimoto’s Disease, and the like, inflammatory bowel disease (IBS), colorectal cancers, and more. A healthy gut system has also been tied to overall improvements in health, and improvements in mental health.

Health in the gut can also reduce risk factors for conditions like acid reflux, and mitigate the onset of too many inflammatory cytokines, known as cytokine storms, which have been of some concern as of late. Because a balanced gut means greater immune health, the immune system of an individual with a balanced microbiome is more likely to have a well-moderated immune response rather than a storm of inflammatory cytokines or an onset of autoimmune disorders.

Conditions Linked With Bad Gut Health

The most common conditions directly tied to poor health in the gut (or microbiota dysbiosis) are found in the GI system itself. The following are some of the most commonly reported conditions affected by a poor or damaged microbiome:

Bowel Problems

Bowel problems include any condition involving the digestive tract that causes significant damage or distress in everyday life. Treatment patterns of these conditions typically vary, and many of them are tied to an increased risk of depression, anxiety, and other mental conditions. Bowel problems include:

Leaky Gut Syndrome

Leaky Gut Syndrome is not currently recognized as a medical diagnosis, but has gained some traction in both alternative treatment circles and conventional medicine circles as a self-described condition with noticeable adverse effects. In Leaky Gut Syndrome, an individual is thought to have an increase in intestinal permeability (called hyperpermeability), or a decreased ability to maintain the tight junctions found in the cell walls of the GI tract. This means that water, nutrients, and other particles are allowed to pass from the GI tract and into the body. This is suspected to be the root cause for different intestinal disorders and diseases, including IBS and Celiac Disease, or an allergy to gluten.

Irritable Bowel Syndrome

IBS is a syndrome, because it is identified as a group of symptoms that occur together, rather than a single symptom or issue. IBS patients frequently complain of bloating, indigestion, pain in the abdomen, and unpredictable and frequently disturbing changes to bowel movements, including diarrhea and constipation. In IBS, there is not a specific imaging scan or cellular test to identify the presence of a syndrome; instead, doctors rely on patient report in the absence of visible indicators of damage to or disease of the digestive tract.

Person holding their stomach in pain

Celiac Disease

Celiac Disease is the term used to describe an immune reaction to eating gluten. Gluten is a protein found in wheat, rye, and barley, and in those with the disease, consumption of (or even contact with) gluten can damage the lining of the small intestine and lead to malabsorption of nutrients, hives, and other, typical allergic responses. Symptoms associated with Celiac Disease include diarrhea, fatigue, weight loss, bloating, gas, nausea, vomiting, pain, anemia, and slow or delayed growth (in children). At present, treatment relies on managing symptoms and avoiding exposure to the protein as a whole through strict dietary management.

Crohn’s Disease

Crohn’s Disease is one of many types of inflammatory bowel diseases (IBDs). Crohn’s causes swelling of the GI tract’s tissues, leading to abdominal pain, fatigue, weight loss, severe diarrhea, and ultimately, malnutrition. The inflammation caused by this disease can extend to different parts of the GI tract or be limited to a single portion (most commonly the small intestine). Inflammation starts on the surface cells, but may spread into the deeper layer of the bowels as the disease progresses, thereby increasing the severity of symptoms and potentially causing irreparable harm.

Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease (GERD)

Gastroesophageal reflux disease is a type of reflux in which symptoms are severe and can mimic other conditions, including cardiovascular diseases or disorders. GERD is most commonly recognized as a persistent feeling of burning in the chest and throat, and can do a great deal of damage to the lining of both. Because acid reflux involves a literal production of acid, potential complications of gastroesophageal reflux disease include damage to teeth and oral health, and anxiety. GERD often flares in response to certain foods (though these foods vary from person to person), and is typically managed through a combination of diet and medication.

Gastroesophageal reflux disease can affect the middle ear, leading to Eustachian tube dysfunction and potentially resulting in hearing loss, otitis media, and tinnitus. While gastroesophageal reflux may not seem like a clear link to the health of the ear, it is in large part a disorder of the throat and can negatively impact the sinus cavity, leading to numerous issues within the sinuses–including the inner ear and acting as a catalyst for hearing loss and other issues involving the ears. Gastroesophageal reflux disease has implications for far more than just the digestive system.

How Is Gut Health Related To Hearing And Tinnitus?

The health of your gut can impact many parts of the body, including the ears. The different ways the gut can impact hearing health, eustachian tube dysfunction, and ear function can be divided according to the different parts of the body that are impacted that directly affect the ears. These include:

Brain/Neurological Function

  • Central Auditory System
    • The central auditory system includes the auditory nerve, which impacts the ability of neurotransmitter production to effectively communicate between the ears and the brain. Gut microbiota dysbiosis can lead to tinnitus via the alteration of neurotransmitter production. When there is a neuroinflammatory response in the brain, tinnitus may be among the end results.
  • Co-Existing Conditions
    • Irritable Bowel Disease, Crohn’s Disease, and Celiac Disease
    • One investigation into the inflammatory process and its impact on the ear canal and hearing health determined that patients with IBD are more likely to be impacted by hearing loss than the general population. This is also true of children with hearing loss, with one study suggesting that children with a Celiac Disease diagnosis should also be screened for sensorineural hearing loss.

Autoimmune/Thyroid Disorders

  • Autoimmune disorders like lupus are also more common in people with eustachian tube dysfunction and other disorders of the ear linked to tinnitus and hearing loss. Because some of the issues that cause these disorders or conditions–namely, an overactive immune system or a lack of balance within the GI tract–they may be more likely to exist in tandem.


  • As previously stated, GERD can lead to eustachian tube dysfunction and otitis media (or middle ear infection). Eustachian tube dysfunction can eventually lead to hearing loss and other issues if it is not properly cared for or treated, which means that GERD can indirectly lead to losing the ability to hear clearly or hear at all. Because tinnitus is associated with hearing loss, people with acid reflux may be more likely to find themselves experiencing symptoms of tinnitus.

Treatments For Gut-Related Conditions

Gut-related conditions are often treated using proton pump inhibitors. Proton pump inhibitor use has been linked to ototoxicity, or having negative effects on the ear canal. Although this particular class of medication is useful for lessening the reflux often associated with a high fat diet, anxiety, and more, it can have a negative impact on hearing, and even lead to eventual hearing loss.

What Can I Do To Reduce My Risk Of An Imbalanced Gut?

Healthy meal consisting of salads and fresh vegetables

Fortunately, having an imbalanced gut is not a life sentence; with some changes, many people can see an improvement to overall health in the GI tract, which can impact gene expression, provide greater support for neurological diseases, and even positively impact hearing impairment like the ones identified above. Common risk reduction efforts include:

  • Eating a well-balanced diet
  • Reducing stress levels
  • Getting 7-8 hours of sleep each night
  • Drinking water/staying hydrated
  • Taking probiotic/prebiotic supplements or eating and drinking pre-and-probiotic rich items
  • Check for food intolerances and stay away from these foods

What Can I Do To Help Alleviate My Hearing Loss And/Or Tinnitus Symptoms?

Tinnitus treatment will differ from person to person, and will depend in some part on the type of hearing impairment being experienced and the most likely root cause of the condition. Nevertheless, there are some standards of care for tinnitus patients. These include:

Health that declines in one area of the body frequently indicates the presence of something elsewhere in the body, so make sure you check in with a medical practitioner to go over any symptoms you notice arising, even if those symptoms do not seem to be related, or seem minor. Imbalances in the gut can eventually alter brain function and lead to a significant reduction in quality of life, so speaking with a healthcare professional about any gut issues you may have can significantly decrease the likelihood of developing any additional conditions or symptoms. 

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