The Connection Between Hearing Loss & Heart Disease
Hearing loss, especially at low frequency levels, often indicates potential heart disease among middle-aged people. While the correlation may appear strange, it makes sense when you consider that the delicate structures of the inner ear are hyper-sensitive to blood flow. Hearing loss as a consequence of reduced blood flow, high blood pressure or other circulatory changes could indicate cardiovascular problems early, before they manifest in more obvious—and deadly—ways. In other words, a hearing test is one way to monitor your cardiovascular health.
Earlier this year, researchers at the University of Wisconsin, Madison announced results of a study that found a link between hearing loss and early cardiovascular disease in middle-aged people who were apparently healthy. The study supports earlier research done at the University of Wisconsin, Milwaukee in 2009. That study, conducted by Dr. David R. Friedland, MD, PhD, noted a strong correlation between certain audiogram patterns and cerebrovascular and peripheral arterial disease. The strong connection supports the claim that a hearing test can be used as a screening test for at-risk individuals.
Dr. Friedland commented on the UW Madison study, saying that it “provides a potential mechanism by which blood flow to the ear may be compromised, namely atherosclerosis and plaque formation.” He also pointed out that hearing loss among those in middle age may be more prevalent than previously recognized.
Over the past 60 years there have been many studies that have indicated a connection between hearing and heart health. A 2013 study reported in the American Journal of Medicine found that women with a higher-than-average body mass index (BMI) and low exercise level were more likely to experience hearing loss than women who exercised regularly and had a lower BMI. This signals that the factors known to cause heart disease are the same as those present in women who have acquired hearing impairments.
Smoking & Diet
Along similar lines, another study from 2014 at Manchester University found that smokers and passive smokers were more likely to suffer hearing loss than non-smokers. A third study, also conducted in 2014, found that regular fish consumption and higher intake of long-chain omega-3 fatty acids were associated with a lower risk for hearing loss in women. A co-author of the study, Dr. Sharon G. Curhan of Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston, told NPR that “women who ate two or more servings of fish per week had a 20 percent lower risk of hearing loss.”
It is well established that smoking (or passive exposure to secondhand smoke) is a contributor to heart disease, and it is also accepted that the consumption of omega-3 fatty acids is a deterrent for the condition. While these behaviors and symptoms could be coincidences, many researchers agree that’s unlikely the case. In fact, research links hearing loss to far more than cardiovascular disease. Other chronic illnesses that are associated with hearing loss include diabetes, Alzheimer’s disease, depression and moderate kidney disease.
Stress may also contribute to chronic diseases, particularly those related to the cardiovascular system. Audiologists and other professionals who help patients address hearing loss know that considerable stress can result from the inability to hear well in social situations, as well as on the job or in academic settings. Since modern hearing aids improve a patient’s performance in these circumstances, they are also thought to reduce stress. This too, of course, is good for the heart.