As we consider our heart health during the month of February, it’s also important to understand the role good circulation plays in our ability to hear. A healthy cardiovascular system, researchers have discovered, is healthy for the auditory system, too.
According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), heart disease is the leading cause of death in both men and women, killing nearly 610,000 people every year in the United States. Those with cardiovascular disease can have a variety of medical issues affecting the structure and vessels of the heart. The most common types include those which narrow or block vessels leading to chest pain, or a heart attack or stroke. Others include those which affect your heart’s muscles, valves or rhythm.
“Cardiovascular disease robs the life of about one American every minute, and heart disease is the #1 killer of women,” Sergei Kochkin, PhD, hearing industry market researcher and former Executive Director of the Better Hearing Institute, said. “Yet, an alarming number of Americans don’t understand how serious the threat of heart disease is to them personally, or how closely intertwined it is with other health conditions, such as hearing health. We urge women and men alike to know their risks and to take action today to protect their heart and hearing health.”
The connection between heart and hearing health
So what does your heart health have to do with your hearing? It’s all about blood flow. Studies have shown that good circulation plays a role in maintaining good hearing health. Conversely, inadequate blood flow and 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. Poor circulation robs these hair cells of adequate oxygen, causing damage or destruction. Because these hair cells do not regenerate, it results in permanent hearing loss.
In 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.
Exercise may help
Although sensorineural hearing loss is permanent, you may be able to help preserve your hearing by adopting a physician-approved fitness program which includes cardiovascular exercise.
A study by researchers at Miami University discovered a positive relationship between hearing acuity and cardiovascular exercise. The study followed 102 non-smoking volunteers from Indiana and Ohio ranging in age from 22-78, whose hearing was evaluated after riding a stationary bicycle. Researchers concluded those with higher cardiovascular fitness levels had better hearing, especially among those age 50 and older.
A larger study published in the American Journal of Audiology in June 2017 by researchers at the Department of Health, Exercise Science and Recreation Management at the University of Mississippi, Oxford, analyzed data from the 2003-2006 National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) and involved 1,070 participants, 30 years of age and older. Those who were more physically active displayed lower triglyceride levels. High triglyceride levels are associated with hearing loss.
Charles E. Bishop, AuD, Assistant Professor in the University of Mississippi Medical Center's Department of Otolaryngology and Communicative Sciences, encourages Americans to take cardiovascular disease seriously, both for it's life-threatening effects and impact on all areas of life, including hearing health.
"Hearing health should not be assessed in a vacuum," said Bishop. "There is simply too much evidence that hearing loss is related to cardiovascular disease and other health conditions. It's time we maximized the information we have in order to benefit the individual's overall well-being."
Researchers hypothesize low frequency hearing loss could be an indicator of the presence or potential development of cardiovascular disease. Start your journey to better health by making an appointment with a qualified hearing healthcare professional. If hearing loss is detected, follow treatment guidelines and follow up with your family physician.