The surprising link between heart disease and hearing loss – San Diego audiologist
Many people realize that hearing loss can cause a decline in the quality of life, but not everyone realizes that hearing loss can also be related to other types of health problems. In previous posts, we explored the link between hearing loss and dementia (the impairment of memory and cognition). There’s also a link between cardiovascular health and hearing loss.
The correlation between the heart and hearing
The cardiovascular system includes the heart and the blood vessels. All tissues in the body require adequate blood flow to stay healthy, and to repair the damage that occurs through daily living. When the cardiovascular system is not healthy, other tissues can be affected, due to the lack of blood flow. This can occur because the blood vessels become hardened or narrowed, or because the heart is unable to pump efficiently.
The American Academy of Audiology recently conducted a survey of the available scientific research on the connection between hearing loss and cardiovascular health. This review found a large number of studies conducted over many decades that have demonstrated that impaired cardiovascular health impacts the auditory system. Conversely, treating cardiovascular disease can produce improvements in hearing.
How does cardiovascular disease lead to hearing loss?
In the inner ear, sounds are converted into electrical impulses that the nervous system can process. This requires a significant amount of energy, so blood flow is very important to the proper functioning of the inner ear. Even a small decrease in blood flow can interfere with the function of this tissue, and may translate into a detectable hearing loss.
In addition, the brain regions that control processing of sounds can also be impacted by cardiovascular disease. Problems like high blood pressure and strokes can cause damage to these brain regions, leading to hearing loss.
Low-frequency hearing loss
The type of hearing loss most strongly associated with cardiovascular disease is low-frequency hearing loss. This means that the hearing loss affects the detection of sounds with a lower pitch.
By contrast, many other common causes of hearing loss (such as exposure to loud noises) are associated with high-frequency hearing loss, so higher-pitched noises become harder to hear. Speech tends to include sounds in the higher frequencies, so those with high-frequency hearing loss tend to notice it sooner. Those with low-frequency hearing loss may be able to get by for a while without realizing what they’re missing. Many experts believe that low-frequency hearing loss is underdiagnosed for this reason.
Is a hearing test a heart health test?
The correlation between cardiovascular disease and low-frequency hearing loss is strong enough that some experts recommend that a hearing test be used as a screening test for cardiovascular disease. At the least, many experts recommend that those who have low-frequency hearing loss should be referred for cardiovascular testing, because they’re at risk for cardiovascular disease.
In addition, those patients who are already known to have cardiovascular disease should get their hearing tested. Hearing loss can be treated with hearing aids, and hearing aid technology has improved dramatically in recent years. Instead of suffering with a lowered quality of life, those with cardiovascular-related hearing loss can discreetly use a hearing aid.
It’s important for audiologists and other health care providers to collaborate, in order to provide the best possible health care. At North County Audiology, we foster relationships with other professionals in the health care field. We’re proud to be a part of helping our patients to achieve the best health outcomes possible.