Take care of your heart and your hearing | American Heart Month
The heart is the center of everything we are – both physically and emotionally. No wonder the American Heart Association uses February to call attention to the battle against heart disease. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 600,000 people die of heart disease in the United States every year; it’s the leading cause of death for both men and women. Coronary heart disease is the most common type of heart disease, killing more than 380,000 people and costing more than $108 billion every year.
At Healthy Hearing, we support the American Heart Association’s call to action because we know that taking care of your heart is a great way to take care of your hearing, too.
Heart-related diseases that impact hearing health
There are several key risk factors that heart disease and hearing health share.
High blood pressure
You may have high blood pressure, also known as hypertension, if your blood pressure is 140/90 or higher. Blood pressure is the force with which the blood pushes against the walls of the arteries as the heart pumps blood. When the force of the blood is too high, it can stretch the walls of your arteries beyond their healthy limits. This may cause vascular weakness and scarring, which increases your risk for developing blood clots and plaque build-up.
This affects your hearing health in a variety of ways. The inner ear relies on good blood flow to maintain health. Any interruption of blood flow can damage the tiny hair cells that translate the sound our ears collect into electrical impulses, which our brain interprets as recognizable sound. Diuretics used to treat blood pressure are harmful to your hearing health. Some with hypertension also develop tinnitus, sometimes referred to as ringing in the ears.
According to the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute, smoking harms nearly every organ in the body and is responsible for one of every five deaths in the United States each year. The chemicals in cigarettes harm your blood cells as well as the structure and function of your blood vessels. This contributes to the development of plaque, which can harden and narrow your arteries.
The chemicals in cigarettes are damaging to your hearing health, too. Nicotine interferes with the neurotransmitters in the auditory nerve, which are responsible for telling the brain which sounds you are hearing. It can also cause tinnitus, dizziness and vertigo. Additionally, smoking irritates the Eustachian tube and lining of the middle ear.
Diabetes is a condition in which either the pancreas does not produce the right amount of insulin to carry glucose from blood into the cells or the cells in our muscles don’t use insulin properly. As a result, the amount of glucose in the blood increases while our cells are deprived of the energy. Over time this damages nerves and blood vessels which can lead to an increased risk for heart disease and stroke.
Individuals with diabetes are twice as likely to have hearing loss, most likely because of the nerve and blood vessel damage the disease causes all over the body. This may affect the way your inner ear transmits sound.
Excess weight and obesity
When your body carries excess weight, it increases your risk for developing heart failure, a condition in which your heart cannot adequately pump enough blood to sustain life. It also increases your risk for developing high blood pressure and diabetes. This is detrimental to your hearing health because the complex system of the inner ear relies on good blood flow and oxygen to maintain the health of auditory hair cells.
The best way to determine if you are overweight is to measure your body mass index (BMI). According to the CDC, more than one-third of all Americans are overweight. Individuals with a BMI of 25-29.9 are considered overweight; those measuring more than 30 are considered obese.
Poor diet and physical inactivity
One of the best ways to control your weight is by choosing the right foods to eat and getting an appropriate amount of exercise. While changing these habits can be difficult, even a few simple changes can make a big difference in your overall health. Doctors at the Mayo Clinic recommend you control your portion size, eat more fruits and vegetables, select whole grains, limit cholesterol and unhealthy fats, choose low-fat protein sources and reduce the sodium in your food. The Surgeon General recommends adults engage in moderate exercise for 2.5 hours each week.
Eating well and exercising is good for your hearing health, too. Foods with Vitamin C, E, D and B-12 are beneficial for maintaining hearing health. Potassium, Folic Acid, Magnesium and Zinc are critical minerals in protecting hearing health. And while exercise protects your heart from high blood pressure and the risks of stroke and cardiovascular disease, it also releases endorphins and boosts the brain’s production of serotonin, dopamine, and norepinephrine. These mood elevating chemicals helps ward off depression and anxiety – two effects of untreated hearing loss.
Excessive consumption of alcohol
While moderate drinking may have some health benefits, heavy drinkers put themselves at risk for developing high blood pressure. Alcohol abuse can also weaken the heart muscle, a condition known as alcoholic cardiomyopathy.
Drinking causes a toxic environment in the inner ear, which damages hair cells and may even cause the brain to shrink. It interferes with your vestibular system, creating balance problems and also puts you at risk for developing tinnitus and noise-induced hearing loss.
Tips for a healthier heart and hearing
As they say, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. This month, love yourself enough to:
- Eat a healthy diet,
- Maintain a healthy weight,
- Don’t smoke – if you do, quit,
- Limit alcohol use,
- Visit a hearing healthcare professional if you suspect you have hearing loss.
Develop these habits in February and your heart and your hearing will love you for it every day of the year.