This February, the United States celebrates the 57th consecutive American Heart Month in February and raises awareness for heart disease. In America, 12% of adults are diagnosed with heart disease, which can be caused by a number of things, including hypertension (high blood pressure). During American Heart Month, we would like to discuss the important relationship between hypertension and sensorineural hearing loss.
SNHL is hearing loss caused by damage to the structures of the inner ear and/or the hearing (auditory) nerve. There are many possible causes of sensorineural hearing loss – age, noise exposure, genetics, viral infections. And the list goes on. High blood pressure, while not a direct cause, can increase one’s chances of developing a hearing loss. According to a recent study, high blood pressure in midlife is significantly associated with the development of a sensorineural hearing loss later in life.
The hearing organ – the Organ of Corti – is a sensitive structure located within the inner ear. In this structure, there are tiny hair cells that send information to the auditory nerve. Then, the auditory nerve carries information from the ear to the brain. When someone has high blood pressure, the circulation of blood to the inner ear is decreased. Researchers believe there are two ways that this decreased blood flow causes damage to the Organ of Corti. First, the decreased blood flow reduces the function of the “battery” of the inner ear – the stria vascularis. When this occurs, the transmission of information to the auditory nerve is interrupted. Second, decreased blood flow reduces the amount of oxygen in the system, leading to oxidative stress and the loss of hair cells. When enough damage occurs – to the auditory nerve and the hair cells – a person will experience hearing loss.
High blood pressure may also increase the negative effects of noise exposure on hearing. We are exposed to loud sounds every day when we use power tools, listen to music through headphones, or ride the “L.” The effects of these loud noises are cumulative throughout our lives, and those with high blood pressure are likely to be affected more greatly than those without high blood pressure.
In celebration of American Heart Month, we encourage individuals with high blood pressure to seek professional care and management of their cardiovascular and hearing health. To support your hearing health, the first step is to get your hearing tested . You should also protect your hearing when attending music festivals, live-music performances, sport events, concerts. At Chicago Hearing Care, we offer comprehensive hearing evaluations, which consist of an in-depth clinical case history, a test battery, and results and recommendations. We also offer solutions for hearing protection, including custom earplugs. For more information or to schedule an appointment for either of these services, contact us at 312-643-0717.
Kirsten Pretarca, B.A. | Au.D. Graduate Student | Rush University