The Link Between Heart Health and Hearing Loss

Hearing Loss Image
As odd as it may seem, hearing loss is one of the first clues that your heart isn’t healthy. The connection between heart health and your hearing was first found 80 years ago. There has been a large amount of research dedicated to the effects of heart disease on hearing loss. It can even worsen existing hearing loss. 
This research doesn’t only apply to older adults. Younger adults with early-onset atherosclerosis can also feel the effects. Heart disease is the leading cause of death in the US. It causes 1 in every 4 deaths. About 610,000 people die of heart disease every year in the U.S. 
With two very different systems in the body, how do we get from heart disease to hearing loss?

Heart Disease and Hearing Loss

The vascular system. Heart disease is a catchall name for many cardiovascular conditions. This includes diseases of the blood vessel system and heart. Heart disease involves many problems. Many of these come from atherosclerosis. This is when plaque builds up in the artery walls, narrowing them and restricting blood flow. 
The auditory system. The inner ear contains fluid and thousands of tiny hair cells. We hear sound when these hair cells move. They transform the vibrations into electrical signals your brain interprets as sound. When these hair cells or the hearing nerve itself have damage, hearing loss occurs. This type of hearing loss is sensorineural hearing loss.
Like all the cells in our body, these inner ear hair cells depend on oxygen to keep them alive and healthy. They get oxygen with blood flow. When there is heart damage or it’s not working, it might not supply enough blood to the whole body. This includes the hair cells of the inner ear. When this happens, the hair cells become damaged and start to die. This results in hearing loss. This type of hearing loss is permanent. This is because there is no way to repair the damaged hairs.

Early Symptoms

One of the first signs of heart disease is blood vessel trauma to the inner ear and hearing loss. Because of this, a hearing test is vital to your health and wellbeing. Your hearing specialist should include your heart history at your first visit. Taking your blood pressure, if available, is also a smart suggestion. 
Besides heart disease, there are other serious diseases that relate to hearing loss. These include thrombosis and pulsatile tinnitus (pulsing sounds). Sudden onset sensorineural hearing loss and hypertensive retinopathy can also happen.
Tinnitus, dizziness, or a increase in hearing loss are symptoms you shouldn’t ignore. These are major signs of a need for more heart health investigation. Call your primary care provider as well if these symptoms occur. Immediate medical attention is always needed for sudden sensorineural hearing loss.

Risk Factors for Heart Disease

The most important risk factors for heart disease include the following.
  • Smoking
  • High blood pressure
  • High cholesterol, particularly LDL
  • Being overweight or obese
  • Diabetes and prediabetes
  • An inactive or sedentary lifestyle
  • Unhealthy diet
  • Chronic stress
  • Family history of early heart disease
  • History of preeclampsia during pregnancy
  • Age (55 or older for women)
Some risk factors, such as age and family history of early heart disease, you can’t change. But, the rest are controllable either through lifestyle changes or medication, if needed.

Protecting your heart and hearing

Consult your primary health care provider. Talk about how to help lessen your risk of developing heart disease. Hearing loss can occur over time. Schedule an annual hearing screening to best track your hearing health. 
Hearing loss can cause the following issues.  
  • Anxiety
  • Dementia
  • Depression
  • Isolation
  • Paranoia
  • Social impairment
  • Decrease in quality of life

…and more. When you take care of your heart, you’re taking care of so much more. You’re giving yourself a better, happier, healthier life.