You may not have ever thought to pair the two issues together, but if you have, or you know someone who has been diagnosed with sleep apnea, then it might well be worth making an appointment to see an audiologist. Research has established that sleep apnea can be a clear sign of hearing loss.
Experts say that sleep apnea has an effect on your vascular supply to your cochlea which causes inflammation, and with the loud snoring linked to sleep apnea, it results in noise-induced hearing loss.
As part of one research study, participants were involved in both in-home sleep apnea studies along with audiometric testing which was conducted on-site. From the testing, it was seen that hearing impairment was more prevalent among those who had a higher BMI (Body Mass Index), those who snored and those who had sleep apnea.
Sleep apnea was seen to have been tied to a 31% increase in high-frequency hearing loss, a 90% increase in low-frequency hearing impairment and also a 38% rise in both high and low-frequency hearing impairment.
What exactly is sleep apnea?
Sleep apnea is a very common disorder, and those who live with it can have different signs, such as having their breathing move into a shallow-type breath or experiencing one or more pauses in breathing during sleep. In fact, more than half of those involved in the study were classed as overweight and the majority reported that they snored heavily.
The main symptoms cover such behaviours as snoring and feelings of sleepiness during daylight. The problems can heighten for sleep apnea sufferers if they don’t have their condition treated. It can move on to a range of other health issues, such as:
- Heart attack
- High blood pressure
Obstructive sleep apnea describes the condition when the airway collapses or becomes obstructed and this is the most common form of this condition. Then there is central sleep apnea which occurs when your brain doesn’t fire the correct signals to the muscles that operate your breathing. It’s possible for this condition to affect anyone, but it’s more likely to occur in people who have certain medical conditions, including
- Congestive heart failure
- Hypothyroid Disease
- Kidney failure
- Parkinson’s Disease
What’s the connection to sleep apnea and hearing?
To offer some clarity, the organs in the inner ear require a regular, healthy blood flow supply. It’s this good circulation that is able to nourish delicate hair cells within your cochlea, and these are responsible for translating the noises your ears collect into electrical impulses that make their way along the auditory nerve to the brain for interpretation into sounds that you can understand and comprehend.
The problem arises in the fact that because these hair cells don’t regenerate, any resulting damage to this part of the inner ear causes sensorineural hearing loss.
Professionals in the hearing health field are well aware that circulatory issues can cause hearing loss. Studies indicate that those with heart disease are in excess of 50% more likely to incur some type of hearing impairment.
The American Diabetes Association state that patients who have been diagnosed with diabetes are twice as likely to have hearing loss compared to those who don’t. What’s more, smokers are more likely to develop problems with hearing loss as the habit reduces oxygen levels in the inner ear.
People who have high blood pressure may also experience hearing loss too.
Finally, noise-induced hearing loss comes as a concern among sleep apnea sufferers as there are some individuals who snore loudly enough to inflict damage to their hearing, and not only this, they can also do the same to their spouse or partner!
To give you some kind of perspective, the Occupational Health and Safety Administration (OSHA) states that employers need to provide hearing protection to any employees who are working in an environment where sound measures in excess of 80 decibels of the course of an eight-hour period of time.
Some snorers are known to produce sounds that are beyond the OSHA safety levels. The resultant vibrations in the inner ear that are caused by snoring can also contribute to hearing loss.
How can these issues be treated?
If you feel that you or someone you know has sleep apnea, then you should book an appointment with your GP, or recommend the person suffering from the issue to do so.
There are a host of treatments which can include anything from lifestyle changes like, weight loss, smoking cessation, to the inclusion of a continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) machine or oral breathing devices to wear at night-time. Additionally, medicine to help you/them stay awake during the day, and/or surgery to amend a blockage.
If you have hearing loss associated with sleep apnea, it’s is likely sensorineural in nature and remediable with the addition of hearing aids. A hearing healthcare professional will be able to determine the type of hearing loss you have and offer a professional recommendation for the appropriate treatment to suit your needs.
CaptionCall is an active advocate for people with hearing loss. We encourage people with hearing loss to seek treatment early and to actively manage their hearing care. Our mission is to help people with hearing loss stay socially connected for a longer, happier, healthier life!
Written By Sarah Cummings