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Cochlea Under Assault - Your Heart Knows

You don’t have to be a cardiologist to know that the heart – and cardiovascular system in general – affects many organs in your body.

If the heart is not healthy, it impacts your circulation, respiratory system, kidneys and liver function, brain, and yes, even hearing.

Now, you may be wondering what the connection between the heart and your ears is, and how a healthy (or weakened) cardiovascular system could possibly have an effect on your hearing.

That’s just the nature of a human body – all systems and organs are interconnected and dependent on each other. Think about it as a team effort – in order to achieve best results, everyone must work together in harmony.

Good hearing – at the heart of the matter

The cochlea sends nerve signals to brain

The cochlea is the auditory part of the inner ear that plays a very important part in our hearing. A snail-shaped, fluid filled tube translates sound waves into nerve impulses that are sent to the brain.

Many conditions can damage the cochlea (and your ability to hear as well), for example a traumatic head injury or repeated exposure to very loud noises.

And then there is cardio-vascular disease (CVD), also a well-known factor in hearing loss.

There’s plenty of scientific evidence to back up this claim.

As part of the Epidemiology of Hearing Loss Study (EHLS) carried out in 2002 in Beaver Dam, Wisconsin, cochlear function was tested in about 1,600 study participants ages 52 to 97.

Researchers found that participants with a history of cardiovascular disease were on average 54 percent more likely to have impaired cochlear function than adults without CVD.

The message here is crystal clear: CVD and hearing loss go hand-in-hand. So the next logical question is – what causes heart disease in the first place, and how can we protect not only our overall health, but also our hearing.

Bad health – poor hearing connection

It is a proven fact that we (and our lifestyle choices) are largely responsible for our heart health. While some of us may be genetically predisposed to CVD, in most cases heart disease is preventable.

Don’t just take our word for it. There is plethora of evidence demonstrating that modifiable (and treatable) factors such as smoking, high cholesterol, high blood pressure, diabetes, and obesity are harmful to the heart as well as to the cochlea because they damage blood vessels and reduce oxygen levels within each organ.

For instance, researchers at Western Michigan University used a measure of outer hair cell activity called distortion product otoacoustic emissions (DPOAE) to assess the effects of smoking on cochlea. The study showed that smokers were at a greater risk of cochlear damage (hearing loss) than non-smokers.

The message to take home is that smoking is toxic to your hearing and heart, not to mention all the other body organs and functions.

Now let’s move on to high cholesterol, a waxy substance which circulates in the bloodstream, increasing your risk for heart disease and stroke.

What you may not have known is that it may also be toxic to the cochlea.

Researchers in Turkey studied the effects of high cholesterol on the cochlea in 20 guinea pigs fed a fatty diet, and assessed them against 20 guinea pigs who ate a normal diet. After four months, the two groups were compared and the researchers concluded that high-cholesterol foods had caused damage to the subjects’ cochlea, resulting in “auditory dysfunction.”

Now, you are probably thinking that you are a human being, not a guinea pig, so these findings don’t pertain to you. Maybe, but do you really want to take that risk?

Healthy heart and healthy hearing
A healthy heart = healthy hearing

More bad news

Wait, we are not done yet. There’s, unfortunately, more evidence connecting certain health conditions with hearing loss.

High blood pressure (also called hypertension) is one of them. It affects approximately one in three U.S. adults. Like high cholesterol, it is also a known trigger for heart attacks and strokes, but your ears are also exposed to danger.

Mexican researchers studied the effects of high blood pressure on the cochlea and found hearing loss in patients with hypertension, concluding that high blood pressure causes cochlear dysfunction.

Then there’s diabetes, a condition occurring when the body doesn’t process sugar correctly.

That’s bad enough, except that scientists at the Rochester Institute of Technology found that this disease also affects hearing ability, especially in older Type II diabetics.

Another risk factor for both CVD and hearing loss is obesity. With an estimated 60 million U.S. adults and 9 million children dangerously overweight, that is a real public health problem. Not only because those extra pounds strain the heart and can lead to diabetes, stroke, respiratory problems, and a slew of other life-threatening diseases, but also, according to Belgian researchers, because a high body mass has been scientifically linked to hearing loss.

Get fit, hear better You probably heard this piece of advice before, but it bears repeating: get healthy.

  • If you have diabetes, make sure you follow your health provider’s guidelines and advice concerning diet and medical treatment. Have your hearing tested annually to monitor for hearing loss.
  • If you smoke, quit. If you can’t go it alone, ask your doctor for help. Have your hearing evaluated for a baseline reading.
  • If you have hypertension and / or high cholesterol, lifestyle changes such as healthy diet and exercise will put you on the right track. It would also be wise for you to have your hearing tested to monitor for any changes.

Sure, it might take some effort. But aren’t your heart and hearing worth it?

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