How hearing loss and heart disease are linked
Healthy blood flow is important for healthy hearing
Heart disease is a top cause of death for both men and women. But did you also know that heart disease is linked to hearing loss? A healthy cardiovascular system, researchers have discovered, is healthy for the auditory system, too.
According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), heart disease is the leading cause of death in both men and women, killing nearly 610,000 people every year in the United States.
Most heart disease is linked to blood vessel damage from high blood pressure (hypertension) and/or stiffened, narrowed arteries (arteriosclerosis) from high cholesterol. These problems can cause blockages, spasms or ruptures of both major or minor vessels, leading to chest pain, a heart attack or stroke. In other cases, disorders of the heart’s muscles, valves or rhythm lead to other types of heart disease, such as heart failure.
“Cardiovascular disease robs the life of about one American every minute, and heart disease is the #1 killer of women,” Sergei Kochkin, PhD, hearing industry market researcher and former Executive Director of the Better Hearing Institute, said. “Yet, an alarming number of Americans don’t understand how serious the threat of heart disease is to them personally, or how closely intertwined it is with other health conditions, such as hearing health. We urge women and men alike to know their risks and to take action today to protect their heart and hearing health.”
The connection between heart health and hearing loss
So what does your heart health have to do with your hearing? It’s all about blood flow. Studies have shown that good circulation plays a role in maintaining good hearing health. Conversely, inadequate blood flow and trauma to the blood vessels of the inner ear can contribute to hearing loss. This is also why hearing loss and diabetes are connected.
That’s because the delicate hair cells in the cochlea, which play an important role in translating the noise your ears collect into electrical impulses for the brain to interpret as recognizable sound, rely on good circulation. Poor circulation robs these hair cells of adequate oxygen, causing damage or destruction. Because these hair cells do not regenerate, it results in permanent hearing loss. When this happens, a person may also develop tinnitus, or ringing in the ears.
In a study published in the June 2010 issue of the American Journal of Audiology, authors Raymond H. Hull and Stacy R. Kerschen reviewed research conducted over the past 60 years on cardiovascular health and its influence on hearing health. Their findings confirm that impaired cardiovascular health negatively affects both the peripheral and central auditory system, especially in older adults.
And more recently, a 2017 analysis of 5,107 Australians found a strong link between heart disease (and heart disease risk factors, like high blood pressure) with an increased risk of hearing loss.
Heart disease and tinnitus
Abnormal blood vessels, narrowed arteries, hardened arteries, and other vascular issues can cause a specific type of tinnitus (ringing in the ears) that sounds like a heartbeat, known as pulsatile tinnitus. If you are experiencing this kind of tinnitus, see a healthcare provider promptly. Sometimes it's harmless, and sometimes it's a sign of worsening heart disease. In some case high blood pressure medication may be triggering tinnitus.
Can a stroke cause hearing loss?
Strokes occur when the blood supply to the brain is blocked for some reason, depriving the brain of much-needed oxygen. If a stroke occurs in the areas of the brain responsible for hearing and balance, the stroke may cause hearing impairment, dizziness and other vestibular/balance changes. (In some cases, a doctor can easily detect a stroke by using several bedside tests, including a "finger rub" test to see if a person can hear the sound at a close distance.)
Long-term complications of stroke
When a stroke affects the temporal lobe of the brain, a person may experience long-term negative changes in their hearing. These include difficulty recognizing spoken words or sounds, a perception that normal sounds are unusual or strange. Rarely, a person also may have "auditory hallucinations" in which they hear things that don't exist.
Hearing loss in one ear and risk of stroke
There is some evidence that people who experience sudden hearing loss in one ear (also known as sudden sensorineural hearing loss, or SSNHL) may be at increased risk of having a stroke within the next few years after they lost their hearing. Why sudden hearing loss occurs is poorly understood, but it's thought that one cause could be from disrupted blood supply in the part of the brain responsible for hearing. If you've experienced SSNHL, talk to your doctor about your risk of heart disease or stroke.
Exercise may help
Although sensorineural hearing loss is permanent, you may be able to help preserve your remaining hearing by adopting a physician-approved fitness program that includes cardiovascular exercise, especially if you have obesity.
A study by researchers at Miami University discovered a positive relationship between hearing acuity and cardiovascular exercise. The study followed 102 non-smoking volunteers from Indiana and Ohio ranging in age from 22-78, whose hearing was evaluated after riding a stationary bicycle. Researchers concluded those with higher cardiovascular fitness levels had better hearing, especially among those age 50 and older.
A larger study published in the American Journal of Audiology in June 2017 by researchers at the Department of Health, Exercise Science and Recreation Management at the University of Mississippi, Oxford, analyzed data from the 2003-2006 National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) and involved 1,070 participants, 30 years of age and older. Those who were more physically active displayed lower triglyceride levels. High triglyceride levels are associated with hearing loss.
'Hearing loss is related to cardiovascular disease'
Charles E. Bishop, AuD, Assistant Professor in the University of Mississippi Medical Center's Department of Otolaryngology and Communicative Sciences, encourages Americans to take cardiovascular disease seriously, both for it's life-threatening effects and impact on all areas of life, including hearing health.
"Hearing health should not be assessed in a vacuum," said Bishop. "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 well-being."
How to get help
Researchers hypothesize low-frequency hearing loss could be an indicator of the presence or potential development of cardiovascular disease. Start your journey to better health by finding a hearing aid clinic near you and making an appointment with a qualified hearing healthcare professional from our extensive directory. If hearing loss is detected, follow treatment guidelines and follow up with your family physician.
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