Coffee, one of the world’s most beloved and international beverages, is deeply ingrained in the daily lives of people across the globe. Its journey begins in faraway places, where coffee beans are sourced, roasted, brewed, squeezed, pressed, boiled, and perked. Each country adds its unique cultural touch to every cup of coffee.
In some places, products and research projects are born over coffee, while in Turkey, fortunes are divined from coffee grounds. The Middle East enjoys coffee with shisha pipes in smoke-filled coffee houses, Europe relishes espresso in cozy cafes, and America embraces it in the convenience of vehicle cup holders.
Howard Shultz, the visionary behind Starbucks, understood the cultural significance of coffee when he traveled to Italy and became captivated by the coffee bars and the European coffee experience. He aimed to bring this tradition back to the United States, transforming coffee houses into places for conversation and community. From its humble beginnings as a small Seattle-based store in 1971, Starbucks grew into an international giant with over 15,000 stores in 50 countries.
In Europe, the coffee culture differs from the American “grab and go” approach. Europeans linger and engage with others over tiny cups of espresso. Every coffee experience leaves a unique imprint, much like a cherished memory. Personally, I remember a special cup of coffee in Venice, Italy, shared with Swiss friends. Served in San Marco Square on a beautiful summer evening with Beethoven’s melodies in the air, it was a memorable moment, even with the price tag.
While such memories are precious, many coffee and tea varieties contain caffeine, which has long been associated with tinnitus.
Tinnitus: A Worldwide Concern
Around the world, audiologists and physicians often inquire about tinnitus management in the United States. Tinnitus, a common complaint among the hearing-impaired, frequently accompanies various types of hearing loss.
For many years, questions about caffeine intake have found their place in case history forms. Harding (2010) echoes the thoughts of audiologists and otolaryngologists, suggesting that reducing caffeine intake can help alleviate tinnitus. Even without strong scientific evidence supporting this recommendation, healthcare professionals often advise patients with tinnitus to limit caffeine. DuPriest (2011) supports this age-old recommendation, explaining that caffeine constricts blood flow in the brain and dilates blood vessels in muscles. In doses exceeding 250 mg per day, caffeine can lead to various symptoms, such as irritability, insomnia, heart palpitations, and headaches.
A typical 6-ounce cup of automatic-drip coffee contains about 100 milligrams, and a Venti-sized Starbucks coffee packs around 320 milligrams. Espresso, with about 77mg of caffeine in 1.5 ounces, offers a milder alternative.
Moreover, caffeine’s widespread use worldwide and its predictable impact on brain blood flow can complicate MRI results and brain scans. Aubrey (2006) notes that most caffeine users need only a small amount of this stimulant to enjoy its pleasant effects.
Challenging the Caffeine-Tinnitus Connection
In 2010, a study at the University of Bristol in the UK, led by St. Claire et al., cast doubt on the significant role of caffeine in tinnitus. Despite the common understanding of caffeine’s vasoconstrictive effects and its associated symptoms, this study failed to establish a clear link.
The research observed a group of participants over a 30-day period. Half of the participants continued their regular caffeine intake, while the other half underwent “phased withdrawal” in which researchers gradually reduced their caffeine consumption. The study’s participants remained unaware of their group assignments, and the gradual withdrawal aimed to minimize severe withdrawal symptoms while preventing participants from identifying their groups based on symptoms.
Surprisingly, the study revealed that the amount of caffeine consumed did not significantly affect the severity of tinnitus. However, participants experienced notable caffeine withdrawal symptoms, such as headaches and nausea. These findings led to the conclusion that the inconvenience of caffeine withdrawal did not outweigh its potential benefits for tinnitus.
Collingsworth (2016) further reported that Dr. St. Claire continued to challenge the belief that caffeine worsens tinnitus, emphasizing the lack of substantial evidence supporting caffeine withdrawal as a tinnitus therapy. In fact, acute caffeine withdrawal symptoms might exacerbate tinnitus.
In Conclusion: Coffee Lovers Rejoice?
While this evidence may not prompt the removal of caffeine-related questions from case history forms, it sheds light on the intricate relationship between caffeine and tinnitus. It also offers hope to coffee enthusiasts, possibly allowing them to continue enjoying their morning brew without worrying about its impact on tinnitus.
The global love for coffee remains strong, and its cultural significance transcends borders, just as tinnitus concerns resonate worldwide.
Aubrey, A. (2006). Coffee: a little really does go a long way. NPR Books. Retrieved October 18, 2011: http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=6155178
DuPriest, J., (2011). Tinnitus: Is there a caffeine connection? Better Hearing Institute, Retrieved: October15, 2011: http://www.betterhearing.org/blog/post.cfm/tinnitus-is-there-a-caffeine-connection
Harding, A. (2010). Cutting caffeine won’t quiet the ringing in the ears. Reuters. Retrieved October 15, 2011: http://www.reuters.com/article/2010/01/20/us-caffeine-ears-idUSTRE60J5EA20100120
Starbucks (2011). Our Heritage. Starbucks.com Retrieved October 15, 2011: http://www.starbucks.com/about-us/our-heritage
St. Claire L, Stothart G, McKenna L, & Rogers P., (2010). ‘Caffeine abstinence: an ineffective and potentially distressing tinnitus therapy’. International Journal of Audiology, Vol 49, No 1, Pages 24-29.
University of Bristol (2010). Study cases doubt on caffeine link to tinnitus. Retrieved October 16, 2011: http://www.bristol.ac.uk/chbs/news/2010/9.html
About the author
Robert M. Traynor, Ed.D., is a hearing industry consultant, trainer, professor, conference speaker, practice manager and author. He has decades of experience teaching courses and training clinicians within the field of audiology with specific emphasis in hearing and tinnitus rehabilitation. He serves as Adjunct Faculty in Audiology at the University of Florida, University of Northern Colorado, University of Colorado and The University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences.
**this piece has been updated for clarity. It originally published on October 18, 2011