The health of our heart is essential as it pumps and distributes healthy oxygenated blood to our brains, cells, and organs throughout our body. Maintaining a healthy heart is attainable with regular exercise a healthy diet and regular doctor visits to monitor for complications. However, all too often heart disease becomes the leading cause of death in the US, prematurely ending the lives of an estimated 610,000 people annually. It’s well known that cardiovascular disease can lead to heart arrhythmia, heart attack, and hypertension, but did you know that it is also a risk factor for hearing loss?
Understanding Cardiovascular Disease
When clogged arteries and high blood pressure cause damage to blood vessels and poor distribution of oxygenated blood, cells across organs in the entire body become negatively affected, causing blockages, spasms, or rupture in both major and minor vessels. This inevitably leads to symptoms such as 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, including heart failure.
“Cardiovascular disease robs the life of about one American every minute, and heart disease is the #1 killer of women,” Sergei Kochkin, Ph.D., hearing industry market researcher and former Executive Director of the Better Hearing Institute, explains. “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
To understand how heart health affects hearing it is essential to understand how the auditory system. When our ears detect sound, the vibrations travel down the ear canal through the eardrum and the tiniest bones in the body called the ossicles. Once these vibrations enter the tiny snail-shaped cochlea of the inner ear, they ripple the fluid inside which stimulates tiny hair-like cells called stereocilia. Stereocilia then transform the vibrations into electronic pulses which are transmitted to the auditory cortex of the brain. This is where sounds are identified, and speech is translated. The stereocilia are incredibly fragile and rely on a healthy supply of oxygenated blood to maintain vitality. When heart disease or hypertension cause blockages or constricted blood to the stereocilia they are fragile enough to become damaged or destroyed leaving an individual with some degree of irreversible hearing loss. This means the loss of sounds, tones, and pitches affects conversation and the detection of sound.
Scientific Research Connecting Hearing Loss and Heart Disease
A 2010 study published in the American Journal of Audiology, spanned 60 years to monitor the instances of hearing loss in heart disease patients. Authors Raymond H. Hull and Stacy R. Kerschen found overwhelmingly that impaired cardiovascular health negatively affects both the peripheral and central auditory system, particularly in adults of advanced age.
In a more recent 2017 study from Australia, scientists analyzed health data from 5,107 patients, found a strong link between heart disease, high blood pressure, and hearing loss.
Scanning and Treating Hearing Loss as Part of Treatment for Cardiovascular Disease
“Hearing health should not be assessed in a vacuum,” explains Charles E. Bishop, AuD, Assistant Professor in the University of Mississippi Medical Center’s Department of Otolaryngology and Communicative Sciences. “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 to benefit the individual’s overall well-being.” If you have been diagnosed with cardiovascular disease then it is important to regularly monitor your hearing, scheduling annual tests to detect an issue. Unaddressed hearing loss can lead to physical and emotional issues such as chronic depression, anxiety, loneliness, cognitive decline, dementia, and decreased mobility. Similarly, if you are living with hearing loss, it could be a warning sign of a greater issue such as heart disease, hypertension, and diabetes.
If you find yourself struggling to hear it is always a good time to schedule a hearing test. Hearing tests are quick, painless, and can allow us to finally get to the root of physical and emotional problems which can improve with patience, focus, and commitment to addressing hearing health.