The interconnectedness of the human body is a source of constant amazement and research for doctors and scientists alike. Some of these links are more intuitive, such as the connection between the lungs and the heart. The lungs collect oxygen, and it is transported to the heart where it can be sent throughout the body. Yet some of the more surprising links continue to amaze researchers. Recent study has uncovered a link you may not have expected: cardiovascular disease and hearing loss. The heart is connected to each part of the body through a vast web of blood vessels, and the inner ear is no exception. By understanding the link between cardiovascular disease and hearing loss, we can better understand how to diagnose and treat each condition.
Hearing and the Cardiovascular System
Although none of the organ systems of the body can be considered entirely disconnected from the others, the cardiovascular system is perhaps the most intimately woven into the fabric of our bodies. Hearing, of course, requires oxygen and nutrients delivered from the heart via the blood vessels. Just like the other organ systems and senses, it requires the regular delivery of oxygen-rich blood for proper function. And yet, it has some special features making it even more closely connected with the heart. The tiny hairs, or cilia, of the inner ear are incredibly fragile. They must be sensitive to the slightest differences in vibration in order to differentiate sound into language and music in the brain. These sensitive hairs respond to vibrations in the cochlea of the ear, another very sensitive part of the body. Imagine the slight differences in sound between rhyming words. These words are spoken into sound waves that vibrate the inner ear in slightly different ways, making them distinct words with distinct meanings. If the functioning of the ear were not so sensitive, it would not be able to differentiate meanings in spoken language.
Ear Sensitivity and Cardiovascular Health
With this incredible sensitivity of the inner ear, it is no surprise that variation of blood flow can have a catastrophic effect. If there are irregularities in the heart or a depleted oxygen load in the blood, the ears can detect this difference quite acutely. With even slightly insufficient blood flow to the ears, hearing can be damaged. If the heart is not functioning at full capacity, hearing can be affected, leading to a loss of sensitivity to certain frequency ranges. Even a slightly lower oxygen level in the cells of the cochlea can prevent them from doing their job of monitoring the vibrations from the world and sending them along to the cilia and onward to the brain.
Hearing Loss and Heart Disease
With such sensitivity in the inner ear, hearing loss can be an early warning sign of heart disease. A recent study by David R. Friedland, MD, PhD, Professor and Vice-Chair of Otolaryngology and Communication Sciences at the Medical College of Wisconsin in Milwaukee has even suggested that certain types of hearing tests can be thought of as screenings for the possibility of heart problems. If hearing loss is taking place, it might be due to heart problems in the background. Although a hearing test is not a measure of heart health, the onset of hearing loss can now be considered a good reason to seek out a cardiologist to engage in a full round of testing. With heart disease being a leading cause of death in the United States, it is one health area that simply cannot be neglected. Knowing more about the link between hearing loss and heart health might even save lives, serving as an early warning sign of oncoming cardiac events.
Other doctors and researchers have speculated if the causal effect might even go the other way. Though a link between hearing loss and cardiovascular disease is known, the particularities of cause and effect are yet undiscovered. With knowledge of this link, the time is right to seek out a hearing test.
Visit Us at Hearing Aid Associates
If you have the sense that your hearing might be compromised, treatment is available in the form of hearing aids and other assistive technology. Don’t delay to reach out to our team at Hearing Aid Associates to point you on the path to whole body health.