Sleep Apnea and Hearing Loss? Study Discovers Possible Link
On the surface, this connection would not seem plausible. However, researchers have already uncovered numerous health issues that have been linked to sleep apnea—from obesity to diabetes. While one condition doesn’t necessarily cause the other, any one of those maladies poses an obstacle in a patient’s overall treatment plan.
More information about sleep apnea would prove to be helpful in promoting a patient’s general well-being, and that includes any hearing impairment issues.
Why sleep apnea can affect the ears
Dr. Neomi Shah published a study that was conducted on 13,967 subjects from the Hispanic Community Health Study/Study of Latinos. The research indicated an association between sleep apnea and hearing loss. The data reflected a 31% increase in high-frequency hearing impairment in individuals with sleep apnea. The results also showed a 90% increase in low-frequency hearing impairment, as well as a 38% increase in hearing impairment related to both high and low frequency. However, the researchers hesitate to conclude for certain that there is a link between hearing problems and sleep apnea because other underlying factors still need to be explored.
One of these unexplained factors is the question of which occurs first—the sleep apnea or the hearing loss. Scientists are still uncertain which one precedes the other.
Either way, researchers focus on vascular health and inflammation, both of which are impacted greatly by sleep apnea. The ears, in particular, tend to take the brunt of the punishment when inflammation is involved. Also, other possible factors that relate to both sleep apnea and hearing loss are obesity and snoring. Both of these factors, in and of themselves, can lead to hearing loss even if a person does not have sleep apnea. There is also the possibility of arteriosclerosis playing a role which does not necessarily relate to sleep apnea, but can coincide with the other mentioned factors. Examining all of the factors in conjunction with each other can give a clearer picture of how to take measures to avoid hearing loss, primarily through weight control.
The effects of being overweight
This idea stems from research that shows how overweight individuals may be at higher risk for developing sleep apnea. If there is excessive fatty tissue present around the neck, then it will narrow the airway. This can be further exacerbated by nasal or sinus congestion which impedes inhaling. Combined with the fact that neck muscles are not as active when a person is asleep, this increases the chances of the lungs not getting enough air.
These are just a few triggers for the snoring that might actually lead to the onset of sleep apnea. The snoring itself makes the problem worse because the vibration causes the throat tissue to swell and as a consequence, the airway narrows down a bit more.
Read on to learn more about this possible strange connection between sleep apnea and hearing loss.