Everyday your heart is at the center of everything—not just in love but keeping your whole body supplied with a healthy amount of oxygenated blood to feed cells and support every system throughout your body. Alarmingly heart disease is the top cause of death in the country, in part due to cultural attitudes around eating and exercise. Around half of all people in the US are at risk for heart disease due to risk factors including high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and tobacco habits. Among a wide array of health conditions recent data has been showing alarming rates of hearing loss in patients who are at risk or diagnosed with heart disease. What could be the connection?
Heart disease and hearing loss
The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) reports that heart disease kills nearly 610,000 people every year in the United States. Often caused by high blood pressure (hypertension) and/or stiffened, narrowed arteries (arteriosclerosis) from high cholesterol, these issues damage blood vessels across the body and increase the risk of heart attacks and strokes. While these acute health risks force patients to deal with the abstract concept of death, there are effects which start to degrade the quality of our life daily. Emerging research is showing that hearing loss may be one of these risk factors. While it’s common to underestimate hearing loss—it can start to impede the quality of your life rather quickly.
Understanding the connection between heart health and hearing loss
In matters of the heart, it’s all about blood flow. Our ears rely on an ample and reliable amount of blood delivered to the cells throughout to function at its best. While we collect sound with our ears, the process of listening isn’t completed until sound is received by the brain. The ears send sound to the brain via tiny hair-like cells called stereocilia. These cells are the sole system for converting soundwaves into electrical impulses which can be received by the brain. As cardiovascular disease becomes increasingly severe it impacts the regular blood flow to the inner ear, weakening the integrity of the stereocilia and opening the potential to cell damage. When cell damage occurs, it opens the stereocilia to damage or even death- both causing permanent hearing loss to some degree, depending on the severity of the damage.
Studying the connection
In a study published in the June 2010 issue of the American Journal of Audiology, authors Raymond H. Hull and Stacy R. Kerschen reviewed research from the past six decades on the connection between cardiovascular health and its impact on hearing. Based on this wide array of the studies, they confirmed that there is a strong correlation between impaired cardiovascular health and its impact on the peripheral as well as the central auditory system, particularly in older adults.
The impact of hearing loss
As cardiovascular disease becomes more and more severe, it can put you at risk for heart attack, heart failure, arrhythmia (abnormal heart rhythms), valve disease, and high blood pressure. With symptoms this severe, many are dismissive of the risk to our hearing. This assumption is made without truly understanding the importance of healthy hearing. We use hearing as a communication tool with the people around us every day and even a mild hearing loss will make everyday interactions more challenging. This can cause strains on personal and professional relationships, contribute to chronic social anxiety, as well as depression and self-isolation. This means people often become less active, and less likely to try new things.
As hearing loss develops it causes us to work harder to hear and socialize, which puts a strain on our cognitive function and increases our risk of dementia earlier in life. If this isn’t alarming enough, as hearing loss progresses it diminishes our awareness of the world around us, increasing our risk of falls and accidents which can be particularly detrimental to our health as we age.
Fighting heart disease
Hearing loss is permanent, but with regular exercise and a balanced diet rich in vegetables and whole grains, you can reduce your risk of hearing loss and heart disease. In fact, one large 2017, researchers from the University of Mississippi, Oxford, analyzed data from the 2003-2006 National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) which involved 1,070 participants, 30 years of age and older. The data revealed clearly that those who were more physically active displayed lower triglyceride levels, which are commonly associated with hearing loss.
How to get help
If you have been diagnosed with cardiovascular disease, we recommend that you should test your hearing as soon as possible. Contact us today to schedule your next appointment.