You’ve heard me say many times that your heart health is often reflected in other parts of your body. In fact, signs and symptoms of underlying heart disease can show up as symptoms in a seemingly unrelated part of your body first. That’s why I’d like to tell you why symptoms of hearing problems may be an early warning sign that your heart needs attention too.
Hearing Diminished? Your Heart Could Actually Be the Culprit
You know, Traditional Chinese Medicine believes that the outer part of your ear corresponds to all the different parts of your body and organs. They often stimulate these points on the ear, through acupuncture, to treat certain health problems elsewhere in your body.
Similarly, more and more, cardiovascular, as well as audiology (hearing) researchers are understanding what the significance of your ears, i.e. your hearing, can mean to your heart health. The intricate workings of your inner ear are so dependent upon, and sensitive to, blood flow, that researchers now believe that your ears may actually be a window to your heart health. And, that the same lifestyle behaviors that affect your heart – like smoking, exercise, diet, stress – also affect your hearing.
When I evaluate a patient for the first time for possible heart problems, I also ask about their hearing. In addition to other possible markers for heart disease like chest pain, shortness of breath, etc., diminished hearing may tell me about problematic blood flow.
The ear may not be getting enough blood to nourish its very sensitive nerve cells that allow you to hear. In turn, that may mean that there could be blockages somewhere in the vascular system between the heart and the head. Not only is your hearing at risk but so is the function and health of your eyes and brain which depend on blood flow to thrive.
Typically, hearing starts to diminish some with age but heart/hearing researchers are finding that this doesn’t have to be the case. If the heart’s function is strong, and blood flow to the head is adequate, and there’s been no damage to the ear’s nerve cells, your hearing should last well into advanced age without impairment.
Similarly, I’ve also seen patient’s hearing, as well as their heart health, improve after they’ve begun a regular exercise program. Exercise helps improve circulation throughout the entire body. It helps prevent blockages and helps more oxygen get to organs which allows them to function better. Studies have also proven this to be true. One study out of the University of Wisconsin, on older people, found that those who exercised, even just once a week, saw a 32% reduction in their risk of hearing loss.
Other studies out of the Medical College of Wisconsin have shown that audiogram patterns are strongly associated with vascular blood flow to the head as well as peripheral artery disease. Audiograms are now actually being considered as an additional heart screening tool. People with impaired hearing are now thought to possibly be at higher risk for heart attack and stroke. As a result, many audiologists are referring patients with diminished hearing to me for further heart screening.
To Protect Your Hearing, Protect Your Heart
Of course, there can be other causes for hearing changes/loss that don’t spell heart disease. Some of these include physical trauma to the inner ear, constant loud noise exposure, or vitamin B12 deficiencies, to name a few. So, it’s well worth your while to get your hearing tested regularly. Even slightly diminished blood flow to the ear may be seen on an audiogram.
Other things you can do that will both protect your hearing and your heart include the following:
- Regular exercise. As noted above, exercise boosts circulation, boosts good HDL cholesterol and helps normalize bad LDL cholesterol to prevent plaques and blockages.
- Quit smoking. One of the worst offenders of heart health, the toxins in smoke also damages the nerve cells in your ears. It also reduces the amount of oxygen present in your blood and tissues necessary for good function.
- Lose Weight. If you’re overweight, losing weight helps boost circulation. Every excess pound needs additional vascular networks to pump blood through.
- Omega-3 Fatty Acids. These help your heart health by normalizing cholesterol, but also help your hearing health. One study showed that long-term use of Omega-3 fatty acids resulted in lower hearing loss in women.
- Replenish B Vitamins. B12 deficiency affects your heart as well as your hearing. Folate, another B vitamin, also decreases homocysteine a marker for inflammation. Inflammation causes plaques to develop in your vascular system as well as damage to your nerve cells in your inner ear.
If you’re beginning to notice changes in your hearing, ask your doctor about getting a screening hearing test. Audiograms are sensitive enough to pick up early changes in hearing that you might not quite notice yet. They could be your first warning sign that your heart needs a little attention as well.
Ron Blankstein, M.D.
Heart Disease and Hearing Loss https://www.mylifestages.org/asktheexpert/QuestionAnswer.page?questionid=1925
Love Your Heart, Test Your Hearing, http://www.betterhearing.org/news/love-your-heart-test-your-hearing