Funny that you can’t spell “heart” without “ear” right? As research has found, the fate of our ears and our hearts may be just as tied together as their spelling. In study after study, poor cardiac health is linked to a higher incidence of hearing loss. In some cases, coronary disease is connected to a doubling a person’s risk for significant hearing loss issues.
What tethers your hearing health to your heart’s health isn’t obvious, but it is important. Doctors believe that circulatory problems caused by heart disease generate damage to the fragile structures of the inner ear, which relies upon regular circulation from tiny blood vessels.
To understand the connection deeper, let’s take a look at the inner ear. Your inner ear is sensitive and delicate. Tiny sensors, called hair cells, detect sound waves and transmit sound signals to the brain via electric impulses. We are all born with a finite amount of hair cells so once a hair cell becomes damaged it is unable to repair or replace itself. A hair cell that has been taken out of commission remains out of commission, this is permanent hearing loss.
Hair cells can be affected by many things. Exposure to loud noises can cause harm and hearing loss. If an infection reaches the inner ear it too can cause damage to hair cells. The delicate, filament-like hair cells can also become permanently damaged when they do not receive enough oxygen and nutrients. The hair cells are sustained by our body’s blood flow, which gets to the inner ear through tiny blood vessels.
When heart disease is present, blood flow is often compromised. Cardiac issues often mean poor delivery of blood to smaller blood vessels. This circulatory impact has an effect on the entire body, but hearing is notable because the cells affected cannot regenerate themselves. If the hair cells of the inner ear become starved, they are unable to recover and result in permanent hearing damage.
Hearing loss is similarly linked to other health conditions that affect blood delivery such as anemia and diabetes. In the case of anemia, blood coming through the blood vessels may not carry enough nutrients to sustain the hair cells. Blood vessel constriction may also be the link between smoking and higher incidences of hearing loss.
A Litmus Test
Nobody wants to have heart disease or hearing loss, but some health professionals think the connection might be useful to cross screen for the two health conditions. Hearing issues may be an early indicator that heart disease or other circulatory issues are present or developing. By the same token, a diagnosis of heart disease can indicate to a doctor that a hearing exam may also be in order. Because heart disease is deadly, doctors are beginning to believe that changes to hearing should be considered as part of a patient’s total health.
Additionally, doctors are looking to hearing as an indication of circulatory health as we age. As we get older, the mechanisms of the inner ear naturally become more susceptible to damage. This vulnerability isn’t a good thing for our hearing health, but can make hearing changes a sensitive indicator that there are other health issues present.
Keeping your heart healthy is part of keeping your hearing healthy. Regular exercise and a heart-healthy diet can support cardiac strength. Studies of exercise among patients with heart disease have shown both that their overall cardiac and circulatory functioning improves and has registered a significant drop in triglycerides in the body, where high triglycerides are often present in conjunction with hearing loss.
Heart disease is a well-known health risk. Annually, heart disease kills over 600,000 people in the U.S. alone and is the number one cause of death in women. Heart disease places stress on the entire body and can be difficult to treat. Adopting healthy habits and exercise routines can help improve heart function and overall health.
While hearing loss is most often permanent, it can be effectively treated. Through hearing aids and other assistive devices, people with hearing loss can often restore much of their hearing range. The best way to treat hearing loss is to address it as early as it is detected, but treating hearing loss at any stage has benefits. Wondering how to get started? An appointment for a hearing exam with Atlanta Hearing Doctor is the best place to begin!