Health conditions commonly affect various systems in the body. For example, much research has established a connection between heart and hearing health. In light of this knowledge and knowing that both conditions can seriously hamper quality of life if not treated, people should be inspired during American Heart Month to make changes to improve and preserve their hearing and heart health.
More than six decades of research reveals a link between cardiovascular and auditory health. In fact, an extensive 2010 review in the American Journal of Audiology showed this to be overwhelmingly true. Experts aren't exactly sure of the mechanisms but believe that coronary heart disease and other heart issues, which result from the build up of plaque in the arteries, also constrict the tiny blood vessels and nerves in the ears.
A 2009 study published in Laryngoscope found that patients' audiogram patterns strongly correlate with peripheral arterial and cerebrovascular disease and can suggest who is most likely to be at risk. Additionally, the University of Wisconsin Medical Center researchers found that low-frequency hearing loss was a risk factor for cardiovascular issues.
Finally, a 2011 study in Occupational & Environmental Medicine even found that long-term exposure to noise in the workplace is strongly associated with coronary heart disease, especially for young men who smoke. This interesting finding could be related to the effects of noise-induced hearing loss combined with smoking in general, or might also suggest a link between the stress caused by a high-noise job and heart disease.
Either way, experts say that hearing and heart health are undeniably strongly linked:
"Hearing health should not be assessed in a vacuum," said Charles E. Bishop, an audiologist and assistant professor at the University of Mississippi Medical Center. "There is simply too much evidence that hearing loss is related to cardiovascular disease and other health conditions. It's time we maximized the information we have in order to benefit the individual's overall wellbeing."
What you can do
During February - American Heart Month - you can vow to begin making changes to improve and protect both heart and hearing health. Here are some ideas:
Get enough exercise each week
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommend that adults get at least 150 minutes of moderate cardio exercise each week. This is because physical activity reduces cholesterol and can lower blood pressure - two things that contribute to heart disease. Also, exercise can help you keep a healthy weight and reduce stress, both of which are important for heart health. Find what works for you, whether it's swimming, bike riding, jogging or kickboxing.
Eat healthy foods
One of the best ways to maintain heart health, and in turn hearing health, is to follow a healthy diet. This includes eating more fruits and vegetables, especially leafy greens, more whole grains, leaner proteins and fewer fats and sugars. For example, some easy changes are to switch out white bread for multigrain and beef for lean fish. Do your best to reduce your sodium levels; a high amount of dietary sodium is notorious for causing elevated blood pressure. One way to eat less sodium is to avoid fried foods, fast food, canned soup, frozen dinners and eating out. You can also prevent high cholesterol by eating high fiber foods and those low in cholesterol, trans fats and saturated fats. Check out the USDA's website for more healthy eating ideas.
Don't smoke, or kick your habit
Aside from other grave effects on your health, smoking is well-known to increase one's chance of developing heart disease, and it is highly correlated with hearing loss as well.
See your doctor regularly
Since high blood pressure often has few or no symptoms, it's important to have it checked at your doctor's office or a pharmacy. Also, you should have your cholesterol levels checked at least once every five years using a simple blood test, and more frequently if you have a history of high cholesterol. A doctor can help you manage your diabetes - another condition that leads to heart disease and hearing loss.
Find ways to reduce your stress
Stress can cause high blood pressure and it's very bad for heart health. Find something that works for you for reducing stress, whether it's taking a yoga class, reading, meditating, deep-breathing exercises, hitting the gym, having lunch with friends, cooking or something else. For people who already have hearing loss, reducing stress could help them better communicate and connect with others.
Being in touch with others is important for many reasons. As much research shows, isolation can cause depression, stress and anxiety. These things are not good for heart health and being isolated can be especially detrimental to someone who already has hearing loss, according to the experts:
"Staying connected reduces stress and promotes positive attitudes," said Peer Lauritsen, the president of Oticon. He recommends that people with hearing loss harness advanced technologies to help them stay in touch with others.