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Many people are surprised to learn that hearing health and cardiovascular health are connected, but hearing specialists have recognized this relationship for decades and researchers are discovering more about this connection every day.
In a recent study of participants aged 80 and above, research found that many types of cardiovascular disease all have implications for overall hearing health and that hearing loss may be an indicator of cardiovascular issues.
How Are Heart Health and Hearing Related?
Medical research is still looking for the full story behind what directly links hearing health and heart health, but much of the answer may lie with the small blood vessels that nourish the inner ear.
Our hearing is dependent on delicate sensory cells in the inner ear which detect and convert soundwaves in the air into electrical signals to the brain. These hair cells are remarkably sensitive but along with their sensitivity, they are also vulnerable to damage. Damaged hair cells have no way to repair or replace themselves, so damage that occurs to them is permanent. We are born with thousands of hair cells, but if they become damaged over the course of our lives we lose our ability to hear.
Cardiovascular disease often affects the way blood is delivered and distributed throughout the body, and this may be the root of the connection between cardiovascular issues and hearing loss. When cardiovascular disease disrupts regular blood flow patterns, the tiny blood vessels which sustain the inner ear can be shortchanged. Without enough blood, the sensory hair cells can be starved for nutrition. Reduced circulation can also interfere with the electrolyte balance in the inner ear which can, in turn, alter the electrical signals sent from the ear to the brain.
Nearly half of all adults in the US live with some form of cardiovascular disease which is the number one leading cause of death and affects 121 million people. Cardiovascular disease includes hypertension, coronary artery disease and diabetes among many other medical conditions that are based in the heart and circulation. Signs of heart disease may be direct or subtle and should not be ignored. Most commonly, these include changes in heart beat, chest pain, difficulty breathing, dizziness or a lightheaded feeling and fatigue.
If you are experiencing symptoms of cardiovascular disease it is important to consult with your doctor. Treatment for cardiovascular disease can extend your life and have a positive impact on other related health systems. In the case of hearing loss, addressing the underlying cardiovascular condition may slow the worsening of hearing loss.
In the past two years, some advancement has been made in understanding how significantly cardiovascular disease and hearing loss are linked. A recent study from the Yale School of Medicine looked at adult participants over the age of 80, assessing the presence and severity of hearing loss alongside cardiovascular conditions.
The study included 433 adults with an average age of 89. The study considered several cardiovascular conditions: coronary artery disease, diabetes, hypertension, smoking and accidental injury to the cerebrovascular system. Those with cardiovascular issues averaged significantly worse hearing – nearly 5.5 dB of additional hearing loss to their heart-healthy peers.
Additionally, the study found that cardiovascular conditions cause hearing loss to worsen far more rapidly. Over time, subjects with cardiovascular comorbidities lost an average of 1.9 dB of hearing annually. Their peers without heart disease averaged an annual loss of 1.1 dB. The worst effects on hearing were found in those with coronary artery disease, which worsened hearing loss roughly three times faster than it occurs in healthy adults.
Hearing Loss and Aging
The Yale study is significant because populations of people over age 80 are expected to double over the next four decades. Alongside the increased aging population, risk of hearing loss grows dramatically. Our auditory system becomes more vulnerable to damage as we age. By age 65 around 1 in every 3 people have significant hearing loss. That number jumps to 1 in 2 by age 75 and 9 in 10 by age 90!
As we age it is important to make regular hearing tests a part of our annual health routine. Annual testing can catch hearing issues early, and may even be indicators for other health issues, such as cardiovascular concerns that may be present. Contact us today to schedule an appointment.