The Relationship Between Heart Disease and Hearing Loss: What You Need to Know

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Did you know that heart disease and hearing loss are related? It’s true! The relationship between heart disease and hearing loss has been studied for many years. While the two conditions have no direct causal link, studies suggest a relationship exists. In this blog post, we will discuss the evidence linking heart disease and hearing loss and what you can do to protect your hearing from damage.

Cardiovascular disease is the leading cause of death in New Zealand. It accounts for approximately 30% of all deaths each year. Heart attacks are responsible for about one-quarter of hospitalisations among people 65 years and over.

Hearing loss is also a common problem, with around one in six people experiencing some form of hearing loss. This number increases to almost one in three for those over 80 years.

What is Heart Disease?

Heart disease and cardiovascular disease are often used interchangeably. They describe a range of diseases and conditions that affect your heart. Types of heart disease include:

Coronary heart disease is the most common form of heart disease, and it’s caused by a build-up of fatty deposits in your arteries that can restrict blood flow to other organs.

Dilated Cardiomyopathy occurs when your heart muscle becomes enlarged, thick or rigid and cannot pump blood effectively.

Atherosclerotic disease is a condition where fatty deposits called plaque build-up on the inside of your arteries, which can lead to a heart attack or stroke.

Heart failure is when your heart can’t pump enough blood around your body because the heart’s main pumping chambers may become stiff and not fill appropriately between beats.

Heart arrhythmias is a condition where the electrical activity in your heart becomes irregular, leading to problems such as palpitations or fainting.

A stroke happens when the blood supply to part of your brain is cut off, depriving it of oxygen. Oxygen deprivation can lead to damage to the brain cells and death.

A congenital heart defect is a condition where babies are born with defects in their heart or blood vessels.

Endocarditis is an infection of the inner lining of your heart.

Pericarditis is an inflammation or swelling in the sac around your heart.

Rheumatic heart disease develops after you have had a strep throat infection.

Valvular heart disease is damage or defect of your heart’s four valves.

The Link Between Heart Disease and Hearing Loss

Heart disease and hearing loss have been linked for many years, but the reason why they may be related is not well understood. Studies suggest that people with cardiovascular problems such as stroke or high blood pressure could also experience hearing loss due to a lack of blood flow and oxygen to the inner ear.

So, what is the relationship between heart disease and hearing loss?

One of the primary ways heart disease and hearing loss are related is their shared risk factors. These risk factors include:

  • high blood pressure
  • diabetes
  • obesity
  • smoking
  • a family history of heart disease or hearing loss.

These conditions can put excess stress on the body and increase your risk of developing heart disease and hearing loss.

It’s All About the Blood Flow

The inner ear is home to the cochlea, which transmits sound waves into nerve signals. The sensory organs of this system are necessary for hearing and maintaining balance. It may seem counterintuitive with these critical structures located relatively far from the heart. 

Still, it can be explained by understanding how blood flow affects them: If the heart’s function becomes impaired by diseases such as high blood pressure or diabetes, it will not provide enough blood flow to meet the body’s needs. This results in a condition called ischemia or lack of oxygen supply.

Ischemia can cause damage and death of tissues and cells anywhere in the body, and its effects on auditory and vestibular structures are no different. If the cochlea and vestibular system do not receive enough blood flow to support their function, patients may experience reduced hearing and balance abilities.

Ototoxic Medications

Many common medications used to treat heart conditions can also damage your hearing. These medications include aspirin, statins, beta-blockers, and ACE inhibitors. If you’re taking medicines for heart disease, talk to your doctor about how they might affect your hearing.

Inflammation

Some evidence suggests the two conditions may share a common underlying cause. One possible explanation for this relationship is that both heart disease and hearing loss are caused by inflammation in the body. Inflammation can damage blood vessels and tissues, including the ear and brain. This damage can lead to hearing loss or other health problems.

Sudden Sensorineural Hearing Loss

Some evidence suggests a link between untreated heart disease and sudden sensorineural hearing loss (SSHL) in younger patients. SSHL is sudden deafness that occurs when the inner ear becomes damaged. It can occur suddenly and without warning, making it one of the most frightening types of hearing loss. While there is no clear causal link between heart disease and SSHL, it is vital to be aware of the relationship.

Health professionals should be aware of this possible relationship and consider the possibility of undiagnosed coronary artery disease in younger patients with heart murmurs and new-onset SSHL, advise researchers who conducted a retrospective study in six hospitals.

Hearing Loss and Heart Disease Prevention

Small changes can go a long way to preventing hearing loss and heart disease. If you are at risk for either condition, get regular checkups and see your doctor if you experience any symptoms.

Make healthy lifestyle choices such as eating a balanced diet, exercising regularly, and not smoking. Reduce stress levels by practising relaxation techniques such as yoga or meditation. And finally, protect your hearing with quality earplugs or noise-cancelling headphones when necessary.

While more research is needed to confirm the link between heart disease and hearing loss, it is crucial to be aware of the potential risks. If you have any risk factors for either condition, talk to your doctor or audiologist about how you can protect your health. And if you already experience symptoms of either disorder, don’t hesitate to seek medical help.

As always, if you are experiencing any hearing problems, you must talk with your audiologist immediately. The best way to help prevent the negative impacts of hearing loss from occurring is through regular visits with your Ear Health audiologist.

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