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Study casts doubt on caffeine link to tinnitus

Press release issued: 12 January 2010

New research has found giving up caffeine does not relieve tinnitus and acute caffeine withdrawal might add to the problem.

New research has found giving up caffeine does not relieve tinnitus and acute caffeine withdrawal might add to the problem.  This is the first study of its kind to look at the effect of caffeine consumption on tinnitus.

The study, by the Centre for Hearing and Balance Studies at Bristol University and supported by a grant from Deafness Research UK, is published online in the International Journal of Audiology

Researchers carried out the first pseudo-randomised, double-blinded, placebo controlled study of phased caffeine withdrawal and abstention to test for a connection between caffeine consumption and tinnitus.  The aim of the study was to provide evidence for therapeutic practice to the tinnitus community. 

Sixty-six volunteers who experienced tinnitus and who usually consumed at least 150 mg a day of caffeine took part in a 30-day trial.  Their usual caffeinated tea and coffee was replaced with double-blinded supplies, under one of two conditions:  usual caffeine consumption followed by phased withdrawal; or phased withdrawal followed by reintroduction then usual caffeine consumption.

The study was designed so that the participants didn’t know about the conditions. They knew they would receive caffeine on some days, but not on others, but did not know which days were which.  Participants were required to complete a questionnaire to measure their tinnitus three times during the study – at the start, after they had been withdrawn from caffeine for ten days and after they had consumed their normal amount of caffeine for ten days.  The participants also kept a very brief record of their tinnitus symptoms each day. 

Dr Lindsay St. Claire, Senior Lecturer in the Centre for Hearing and Balance Studies at the University of Bristol, and the lead researcher on the study, said: “With almost 85 per cent 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.”

Deafness Research UK’s Chief Executive, Vivienne Michael, added: “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.  In the UK alone, we estimate that for over half a million people, tinnitus has a negative effect on their quality of life. 

“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.”

Tinnitus affects nearly 15 per cent of adults in the UK at any one time and caffeine is consumed daily by approximately 85 per cent of adults globally. 


Further information

St Claire L, Stothart G, McKenna L, Rogers P: ‘Caffeine abstinence: an ineffective and potentially distressing tinnitus therapy’. International Journal of Audiology, January 2010, Vol 49, No 1, Pages 24-29.

The 16-month study was funded by a £55,000 grant from Deafness Research UK.

The Centre for Hearing and Balance Studies was formed in August 2004, as part of the newly established School for Applied Community and Health Studies, a coalition of departments interested in applied research questions.

Research and teaching within the Centre focuses on hearing and balance related issues, with a particular interest in rehabilitation and the professional development of people concerned with audiological services.

Deafness Research UK is the country’s only charity dedicated to finding new cures, treatments and technologies for the deaf, hard of hearing and other hearing impaired people including tinnitus sufferers.

About five million people in the UK are affected by tinnitus and it can have a devastating effect on their quality of life. Not enough is known about this very complex condition and Deafness Research UK is determined to do something about it. It is committed to funding leading edge research and providing practical information to health professionals for the benefit of sufferers.

For information on research into deafness and other hearing conditions, go to, call the Deafness Research UK freephone helpline on 0808 808 2222, or email

Please contact Joanne Fryer for further information.
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