Did you know about 610,000 people die of heart disease in the United States every year? That’s 1 in every 4 deaths, making heart disease the leading cause of death for both men and women. Because of this health issue's prevalence, understanding your risk and taking preventative action against heart disease is incredibly important.
It may surprise you to learn that even your ear doctor can be a part of your heart health routine. Believe it or not, a specific kind of hearing loss shares a link with heart disease. Specifically, low-frequency hearing loss should be considered a cardiovascular risk factor, due to a systemic association to heart disease and strokes.
What’s The Connection?
A growing body of research shows that a person's hearing health and cardiovascular health frequently correspond. For example, a study published in the June 2010 issue of the American Journal of Audiology, authors Raymond H. Hull and Stacy R. Kerschen reviewed research conducted over the past 60 years on cardiovascular health and its influence on hearing health. Their findings confirm that impaired cardiovascular health negatively affects both the peripheral and central auditory system, especially in older adults.
Interestingly, and importantly, this same finding has been reached even when controlling for common heart disease risk factors such as age, hypertension, diabetes, and smoking.
How Exactly Does Our Heart Health Affect Our Ears?
The entire body, including our ears, relies on a healthy blood supply to operate properly. However, poor blood flow, as well as trauma to the blood vessels of the inner ear, can contribute to hearing loss.
That’s because the delicate hair cells in the cochlea (which play an important role in translating the noise your ears collect into electrical impulses for the brain to interpret as recognizable sound) rely on good circulation to function. Poor circulation robs these hair cells of adequate oxygen, causing damage or destruction. Then, since these hair cells do not regenerate, it results in permanent hearing loss. (Additionally, any restriction of blood supply can compound other damaging influences, including noise, injury, and disease.)
This is important because heart disease is caused by plaque buildup within artery walls. As the vessels become thicker and stiffened, it’s harder for blood to flow through your arteries. This impacts the amount of blood being supplied to organs and tissues alike - including tissues within the ears.
What Does This Mean For You?
There is some good news involved with this correlation. Experts believe the inner ear is so sensitive to changes in blood flow that abnormalities in the cardiovascular system could impact the ears earlier than other, less sensitive parts of the body. In an ideal world, a patient won’t develop heart disease at all. But good ear care and regular hearing tests could, if needed, pick up on the first signs of heart disease - and may help save a life as a result.
Again, though: in an ideal world, you won’t develop heart disease at all. So, in the interest of caring for your heart and protecting your ears from the effects of heart disease, it’s important to do two things:
- Know your risk. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and smoking are key risk factors for heart disease. (About half of Americans 47% have at least one of these three risk factors!) Having diabetes, being overweight, a poor diet, and an inactive lifestyle can also affect your risk.
- Change your risk. Once you know your risk, you can take action to address it! Losing weight, controlling your blood pressure, making efforts to quit smoking, regular exercise, and other healthy living choices can all help to protect your heart - and your ears.
Should A Doctor Be Involved In My Efforts?
Yes! Be sure to talk to your hearing and heart health professionals about how low-frequency hearing loss may be an early indicator of heart disease or other cardiovascular conditions, and how improved heart health may positively impact your quality of life. Both doctors can provide specialized, specific feedback on your individual needs as a patient taking control of your health.
Not sure how to find an ear doctor in your area? We can help! Since 1949, Hearing Unlimited, Inc. has been helping people throughout Southwest Pennsylvania address the numerous, underappreciated issues associated with hearing loss. Contact us online or by phone today to schedule an appointment with us and take advantage of our services and resources!