A Link Between Hearing Loss and Cardiovascular Disease

A Link Between Hearing Loss and Cardiovascular Disease

Leanne E. Polhill, LHAS, BC-HIS, BA Hearing Health, Hearing Loss, Hearing Loss Related Disease, Research

Leanne E. Polhill, LHAS, BC-HIS, BA

Roughly one out of four deaths in the U.S.—about 659,000 per year—are the result of cardiovascular disease. It is safe to say that heart health is nearly tantamount to overall health, and the means of maintaining heart health are fairly well-understood at this point.

Regular exercise (3 sessions per week), a healthy diet high in vegetables and lean meat, and avoiding smoking and drinking are key to having good cardiovascular health. Maintaining low cholesterol, low blood pressure, and generally being more active are also important.

About Cardiovascular Disease

“Cardiovascular Disease” is a term used to refer to general problems with the heart and blood vessels. Build-ups of fatty deposits in the blood vessels or hypertension—”hardening of the arteries”—are commonly associated with poor heart health. Type II Diabetes also puts us at a greater risk of poor heart health, and a family history of cardiovascular disease also means we should especially pay attention to the state of our heart health.

Cardiovascular Disease and Hearing Loss

Heart health appears to be intimately tied to hearing health. We might think of our ears as the “canary in the coalmine” of our cardiovascular system.

Our ability to hear depends on the proper functioning of some 16,000 tiny, hair-like cells, called stereocilia, inside the inner ear. These cells pick up mechanical sound from the middle ear and convert it into the electrical impulses that can be understood by our brain. Once they die or are damaged, they do not repair or grow back. Over time, when enough of them cease to function properly, it results in sensorineural hearing loss. That’s the most common kind of hearing loss, which is the broader type of hearing loss at play in both noise-induced hearing loss (NIHL) and age-related hearing loss (presbycusis).

Stereocilia, like all parts of the body, rely on a steady flow of oxygen and nutrients from our blood. If they don’t receive what they need from our blood, they will soon die and cease to function. But because they are so small, the blood vessels that feed them are also very small. A problem with our heart, blood vessels, or blood itself can result in damage to the stereocilia before problems become apparent anywhere else in the body.

Regular Hearing Tests and Cardiovascular Disease

Since hearing health is so intimately linked to cardiovascular health, regular hearing tests can sometimes alert health professionals that you have an underlying cardiovascular disease.

The Better Hearing Institute, a non-profit organization, recommends getting a hearing test once every decade until age 50, and once every three years thereafter. Those at a higher risk for hearing loss should be tested even more frequently.

If the result of your most recent hearing test shows an unusually high degree of hearing loss since your last test, this could be a sign that an underlying cardiovascular issue is causing accelerated hearing loss. Your hearing care professional will refer you to the appropriate medical doctor if they suspect your hearing loss is progressing at a pace consistent with cardiovascular disease.

A Two-Way Street

A meta-data study at Harvard University found that those with cardiovascular disease were 54% more likely to have hearing loss than those with a healthy cardiovascular system. This is, of course, consistent with the information we have provided above.

What is remarkable is that a separate study published in 2018 in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology found that those who were exposed to excessive noise over a period of years were more likely to experience cardiovascular disease as a result of stress. Overexposure to noise was associated with far higher stress levels, which is a long-recognized risk factor in cardiovascular disease.

Seek Treatment for Cardiovascular Disease and Hearing Loss

Whether you may be at risk for cardiovascular disease or think you might have hearing loss, treatment is available. We can always change aspects of our lifestyle to promote better health and well-being. Quitting smoking, exercising regularly, and eating a healthy diet—such as the Alternate Mediterranean Diet (AMED) or Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension (DASH)—can go a long way to improving our cardiovascular health and diminishing our risk of hearing loss.

If you do have hearing loss, hearing aids are an important part of maintaining your best health and well-being. Hearing aids help us stay social, active, and independent even as hearing loss might start to make it harder to navigate the world. Make an appointment for a hearing test today and find out what hearing aids can do to improve your life!