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Hearing loss isn’t just an inconvenience. Your hearing acuity can say more than you might have thought about the health of the rest of your body. One of the most concerning: There is an established link between hearing loss and heart disease, the number one killer of both men and women in the US, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Hearing Loss and Heart Disease: What’s the Relationship?

To be clear, most researchers don’t think hearing loss causes heart disease. Rather, they believe that one of the ways in which heart disease presents itself is hearing loss. The issue is usually blood circulation, but first it’s necessary to understand how the ears allow you to hear.

When sound enters the inner ear—having already been amplified and converted to vibration by the outer and middle ears—specialized structures called hair cells turn the vibrations into electrical impulses to be passed along the auditory nerve for processing in the brain.

Like every other cell in the body, hair cells rely on oxygen to keep them healthy. And—again, like every other cell in the body—they are fed this oxygen by blood. When the heart is damaged or working inefficiently, it does not always supply enough blood or oxygen to other parts of the body, including hair cells. At this point, the hair cells become damaged or even die off, resulting in hearing loss.

So, to recap:

  • Heart disease damages the heart
  • An unhealthy heart can’t feed hair cells efficiently
  • Oxygen-starved hair cells become damaged or die
  • Sound does not get transported to the brain correctly
  • Hearing loss results

Types of Heart Disease

Just like there is more than one kind of hearing loss, there are quite a few different forms of heart disease.

Atherosclerosis: Atherosclerosis is often referred to as hardening of the arteries. It occurs due to cholesterol and plaque buildup on arterial walls. This restricts blood flow and contributes to high blood pressure. Additionally, it is a major risk factor for heart attack and stroke. If a piece of plaque on the artery wall breaks open (ruptures), blood cells will form a clot around it. That clot may then dislodge from the artery wall and potentially block blood flow the heart, causing a heart attack, or the brain, causing a stroke.

A 2015 study published in the journal Atherosclerosis found that people in the study who had thickened carotid artery walls—an indicator of atherosclerosis—were about 20 percent more likely than study subjects with thinner arterial walls to have hearing impairment, as measured in a pure-tone test. Additionally, the more spots in the carotid that had plaque, the greater the chance the person had hearing impairment.

Heart failure: Heart failure is not the sudden stopping of the heart—that’s cardiac arrest. Rather, it’s the inability of the heart to pump enough blood to fully meet the body’s needs. There are a number of possible causes of heart failure, including a heart attack that kills heart muscle cells.

A 2018 study published in JAMA Otolaryngology—Head & Neck Surgery examined data from people aged 70 or older with and without heart failure. It found that those with heart failure were about 65 percent more likely to have hearing loss than those without.

Hypertension: Hypertension is better known as high blood pressure. It is an incredibly common condition, affecting about one in three American adults. It is known to cause inner ear hemorrhage—bleeding—which in turn is known to cause sudden sensorineural hearing loss.

Valve problems: The heart has four valves through which blood passes on the way to and from the lungs and to and from the rest of the body. Mitral valve prolapse is a condition in which one of these valves bulges into one of the heart’s chambers. Although mitral valve prolapse is usually a relatively benign condition, an October 2018 study in PLoS One suggests that people who have it have a 70 percent increased risk of sudden sensorineural hearing loss.

Get Checked Out

The many forms of heart disease share lots of symptoms, both with each other and with other conditions. Such common and general symptoms include:

  • Chest pain
  • Dizziness
  • Fatigue
  • Shortness of breath

A hearing test might be the first clue you have that your heart isn’t healthy. While heart disease is by no means the only—or even a particularly common—cause of hearing loss, if you have experienced hearing loss according to a hearing test, it may be a good idea to speak to your primary care physician about your heart.

If you’d like to schedule a hearing test, call Sonora Hearing Care. We have been in operation since 2000 and we have multiple doctors of audiology available to see patients. At Sonora Hearing Care, we take our time to figure out your hearing aid’s problem and provide the best, longest-lasting solution. Contact us today.