Sleep apnea linked to loss of hearing

If you’ve ever been kept awake by someone snoring, you’ll know how aggravating the sound can be.

But according to new research, it’s the snorers themselves who should be more concerned with ‘noise’ issues, as a large scale study has revealed that sleep apnea may be linked to hearing loss.

What is sleep apnea?

Sleep apnea affects approximately 18 million Americans.  It is a disorder caused by the throat muscles relaxing during sleep, which narrows the airways.  Oftentimes, a person’s tongue collapses as well, blocking the throat.  Breathing through these narrow airways is disrupted, resulting in snoring as well as temporary pauses in breathing.

Sleep apnea affects multiple organs

People suffering from sleep apnea have an increased risk for other chronic health conditions, like diabetes and heart disease.  Scientists suspect that sleep apnea doesn’t occur in isolation, but rather it is sign of underlying health conditions that affect multiple organs.  Unfortunately, patients with sleep apnea frequently have a hard time recognizing they have the disorder.

For those who do, however, Dr. Amit Chopra of the Albany Medical Center in New York urges them to also have their hearing tested. At a recent conference of the American Thoracic Society, Dr. Chopra and associates presented their findings that sleep apnea was associated with hearing loss.

Dr. Shah and her partners studied 14,000 participants in the Hispanic Community Health Study/Study of Latinos, who were given in-home sleep studies and hearing testing.  Dr. Chopra found that people with sleep apnea were more likely to also have impairments in both high and low frequency hearing.

Sleep apnea and hearing loss

Dr. Chopra found that sleep apnea was associated with a 31% increase in high frequency hearing impairment.  It was also associated with a 90% increase in low frequency hearing impairment. Finally, she found a 38% increase in BOTH high and low frequency hearing losses.

Dr. Chopra thinks the link between sleep apnea and hearing loss results from a combination of factors. Sleep apnea is associated with inflammation and abnormal blood vessel functioning.  The ear is vulnerable to vascular injury:

“Potential pathways linking sleep apnea and hearing impairment may include adverse effects of sleep apnea on vascular supply to the cochlea [part of the inner ear] via inflammation and vascular remodeling or noise trauma from snoring.” Source

Although there are some well known comorbid relationships with sleep apnea, hearing loss is a surprising and relatively unknown association. Next, investigators want to learn how treating sleep apnea might impact hearing damage.

Read more at WebMD:

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