According to the World Health Organization, heart disease is the number one cause of death in the world.
But death isn’t the only thing those with heart disease have to worry about. Emerging studies are showing a startling link between heart health and hearing loss.
Understanding this connection may not only give you extra willpower to protect your heart; it may also help you keep your hearing.
The connection between heart health and hearing
Heart disease wreaks havoc on the body in so many ways. It:
- Raises blood pressure
- Weakens artery walls
- Creates blockages that not only block blood flow. They can break off, leading to the next condition
- Increases risk of stroke and heart attack
- Increases risk of an aneurysm (a vessel bulge that may burst under pressure)
- Leads to neuropathy (tingly or painful nerves in your hands and feet)
- May lead to amputation
- And more
Heart disease is a slowly progressing condition. If you have it, it likely started long before your current age and may have already started to affect your health.
Hearing loss may be your first warning sign
Researchers now believe that hearing loss may actually be one of the first real warning signs a person gets that their heart is unhealthy enough that you’re causing permanent damage.
The inner ear contains fragile and irreplaceable cells. You have tiny hair cells that dance with the vibrations that sound waves make. Your brain interprets these movements as different sounds. If these hair cells are damaged, they do not grow back.
Over time, the sweet sound of your daughter’s voice sounds distant and distorted. You find yourself turning the TV all the way up just to hear your favorite show.
If you misunderstand people frequently or keep asking, “what?” you may want to go ahead and schedule that hearing test.
How heart disease may cause hearing loss
Unlike most parts of your body, your inner ear only has one main artery supplying it with oxygen and nutrients. If this one artery is blocked even for a very short time, cell death can occur. High blood pressure, narrowed arteries, a blood clot, cholesterol buildup could all reduce or cut off this supply. An artery may bulge and leak, getting less blood where it’s needed.
Think about this next time you’re having an argument with your son about his parenting style or a frivolous purchase. As your blood pressure is rising, your face feels hot and pressurized. Your cheeks turn red.
It’s easy to see and feel what’s happening on the outside. But on the inside, you may be doing damage to your hearing. The effects may come in the form of tinnitus (ringing of the ears) or hearing loss.
How hearing loss may contribute to heart disease
Like so many connections, links and correlations, the cause-effect relationship isn’t necessarily clear or one-way. There’s also research that links loud noises (often the cause of hearing loss) with heart problems.
A study of men in their mid-30’s showed that loud occupational noises like those experienced in factories may make the heart beat faster and the blood pressure rise.
Another notable study of people 70+ with hearing loss found that the worse someone’s (untreated) hearing loss is, the less likely they are to stay physically active as they age. Lack of physical activity is a leading cause of heart disease.
How to reduce your risk of heart disease and hearing loss
To both reduce your risk of heart disease and hearing loss,
- Follow exercise recommendations. Perform moderate exercise for 2.5 hours a week (e.g., fast walking, mid-paced cycling) or 1.25 hours of strenuous activity (e.g., jogging, swimming, fast dancing).
- Get your hearing tested annually from the time you first start noticing a change, even a minor one. Or get it tested if you’re at high risk due to noise exposure, chemo, etc.
- Develop strategies to manage stress, which can increase blood pressure and the risk of hearing loss.
- Eat a heart-healthy diet.
- Wear your hearing aids if you have them to make it easier to stay active.
For more tips and information that helps you hear at your best, keep following our blog.