Is your sleep robbing you of your hearing?

By: Dr. Victor Marchione | Hearing Health | Wednesday, November 11, 2015 - 01:00 PM

sleepHearing loss can be caused by noise or through aging – this much we know. But research suggests that a serious sleep condition could also be robbing you of your precious hearing.

Sleep apnea is a condition that causes a person to stop breathing numerous times throughout the night. It has been tied to conditions such as hypertension, obesity and even diabetes. Research findings suggest that sleep apnea can be linked with hearing loss as well, stressing how important it is to get the condition under control.

Sleep apnea linked with hearing loss

apneaThe study uncovered that sleep apnea can contribute to hearing loss. Even after researchers took into account other possible causes of hearing loss, the association still remained.

Study author, Dr. Neomi Shah, said, “Sleep apnea is more of a systemic and chronic disease than just something that happens when you’re sleeping. It probably affects multiple different organs, so I would probably urge we start thinking about sleep apnea as more like a chronic disease with vascular and inflammatory issues.”

But how exactly does your sleep affect your hearing? Well, researchers suggest that it can be a combination of inflammation and abnormal functioning in blood vessels. Dr. Shah explained, “The ear is prone to this kind of injury.”

The study reviewed data from nearly 14,000 U.S. participants from the Hispanic Community Health Study/Study of Latinos. All participants completed in-home sleep studies and hearing tests.

Roughly 10 percent of the participants had sleep apnea, and 30 percent had some sort of hearing impairment.

Those with hearing impairment were more likely to snore, be of Cuban or Puerto Rican descent, have higher body mass indexes (BMI), and were diagnosed with sleep apnea.

Sleep apnea was found to be associated with a 31 percent increase in high frequency hearing impairment and 90 percent in low frequency hearing impairment. Sleep apnea also increased the participants’ hearing impairment in low and high frequency by 38 percent. Speech, for example, is considered low frequency.

It’s important to note that association does not necessarily translate to causation. As neuroscientist Dr. Rebecca Spencer added, “The number one thing I always say is, correlation is not causation; it doesn’t mean if you have sleep apnea you’re at risk for hearing impairment. You wouldn’t know if one comes before the other: sleep apnea appears before hearing loss, or hearing loss appears before sleep apnea and maybe they don’t come together at all. They may not be related except by a third factor.”

Further research is required to confirm if sleep apnea can cause hearing loss. Furthermore, the study focused primarily on the Hispanic community, so further research should include other ethnicities as well.

Because sleep apnea is already linked with so many detrimental health consequences, the take home from the study is to ensure you are receiving treatment for sleep apnea in order to reduce the risk of its many complications, including hearing loss.

Dr. Shah concluded, “There is the potential that treating sleep apnea may improve hearing loss.”

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