Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) and tinnitus are both very common. It’s unclear whether there’s a link between them or how strong that association may be, but some research suggests people with GERD may develop tinnitus and other ear concerns more frequently than people without GERD.

GERD happens when your stomach contents come back up into your esophagus. It is estimated to affect 18.1% to 27.8% of people in the United States.

Tinnitus is when you hear a ringing or other noise in your ear in the absence of an external sound. It’s estimated to affect about 1 in 10 adults in the United States. In fact, almost everybody has experienced tinnitus at some point.

GERD may potentially result in stomach acid reaching your middle ear. This may play a role in hearing loss and the development of tinnitus. Some medications used to treat GERD may also lead to hearing loss and tinnitus.

Keep reading to learn more about what researchers have found so far about the connection between these two conditions.

It’s not clear if GERD causes tinnitus. Some researchers think there could be a connection, at least theoretically.

GERD develops when the tight band of muscle between your stomach and esophagus frequently relaxes and allows stomach acid to leak into your esophagus. In severe cases, it can reach all the way to the throat. When this happens, it is known as laryngopharyngeal reflux (LPR).

Your ears are connected to the back of your throat through passageways called your eustachian tubes. These tubes help drain fluid from your ears and regulate pressure.

In people with GERD and LPR, stomach acid can reach the eustachian tubes or middle ear. The high acidity can potentially damage these structures if exposed frequently.

According to 2018 research, studies in mice have associated GERD with eustachian tube dysfunction, impaired clearance of the middle ear, and hearing loss. Eustachian tube dysfunction and hearing loss are both associated with the development of tinnitus, according to research from 2021 and 2022.

What does human research say?

Researchers haven’t directly examined whether GERD causes tinnitus, but they have found evidence that GERD is associated with other conditions that may contribute to the development of tinnitus.

GERD and hearing loss

In the 2018 study mentioned above, researchers investigated the relationship between GERD and hearing loss in 54,883 women ages 41 to 58.

The researchers found that a higher frequency of GERD symptoms was associated with a higher risk of hearing loss, which is a potential cause of tinnitus.

Chronic laryngitis and tinnitus

In another 2018 study, researchers examined the relationship between chronic nonspecific laryngitis and tinnitus. Chronic nonspecific laryngitis is a persistent inflammation of your voice box that is not caused by an infection. According to the researchers, GERD is the most common cause in non-smokers.

The researchers found that tinnitus significantly correlated with chronic nonspecific laryngitis in men but not women. It wasn’t clear why there were gender differences.

According to the researchers, many previous studies have reported that chronic nonspecific laryngitis and tinnitus share risk factors, such as:

  • mental distress
  • sleep disorders
  • various psychological and psychiatric disorders.

GERD and otitis media with effusion

Otitis media with effusion is a buildup of fluid in the middle ear without infection. It may cause tinnitus and the sensation of a foreign object in your ear canal, per 2022 research.

In a 2021 study, researchers found that among 3,532 people with GERD and 14,128 without GERD, the chances of the people with GERD developing otitis media with effusion were 1.84 times higher than the people without GERD over an 11-year period.

People with allergic rhinitis, asthma, or rhinosinusitis were at particular risk.

GERD in early childhood and ear disease

In a 2020 study, researchers found that GERD diagnosed in the first year of life was associated with otitis media, which is inflammation of the inner ear. It was also associated with hearing impairment, eustachian tube dysfunction, and the need for tympanostomy tubes.

Otitis media is one of the most common conditions that cause tinnitus, according to 2016 research. Hearing impairment and eustachian tube dysfunction can also cause tinnitus.

It’s possible that some GERD medications may cause tinnitus. The most common medications used to treat GERD are called proton pump inhibitors and H2-receptor antagonists.

In a 2021 study, researchers found that the use of proton pump inhibitors was associated with an increased risk of sensorineural hearing loss or tinnitus. More research is needed to understand this relationship.

In the 2018 study, researchers found no relationship between the use of proton pump inhibitors or H2-receptor antagonists and hearing loss in women.

Potential ear, nose, and throat (ENT) symptoms of GERD and LPR include:

The main symptom of GERD is acid reflux, also called heartburn. Other symptoms of GERD can include:

It’s a good idea to contact a doctor about GERD if:

  • You get heartburn more than twice a week.
  • Your heartburn doesn’t improve with over-the-counter antacids.
  • Acid reflux wakes you up.
  • You regurgitate food particles from your stomach into your mouth or throat.
  • You have burning chest pain.
  • You have other troubling symptoms.

Tinnitus can have many causes. Most of these causes aren’t serious, though some can be serious and require medical attention.

The National Health Service recommends seeing a doctor if:

  • You have tinnitus regularly.
  • Your tinnitus is getting worse.
  • Your tinnitus is causing you significant concerns.
  • You have tinnitus to the beat of your heart.

Tinnitus and GERD are two very common conditions. Researchers have found evidence that GERD may increase your risk of developing some ear conditions like hearing loss or eustachian tube dysfunction that may lead to tinnitus.

It’s important to see a doctor if your GERD or tinnitus is significantly impacting your life. A doctor can prescribe medications or suggest lifestyle changes that may offer relief.