A partnership between heart health and hearing health?

Cardiovascular diseases (CVD) including heart disease and stroke cause 17.3 million deaths per year in the United States. Current research is raising awareness of a distinctly clear relationship between hearing loss and cardiovascular disease.  The exact nature of this relationship is yet unknown, however several studies have shown a frequent correspondence between a person’s hearing health and cardiovascular health. Expert David R. Friedland, MD, PhD, Professor and Vice-Chair of Otolaryngology and Communication Sciences at the Medical College of Wisconsin in Milwaukee, explains that the inner ear is more sensitive to cardiovascular pathology than other areas of the body, because of its high dependence on blood flow. It is especially noteworthy that Dr. Friedland’s study published in The Laryngoscope uncovered a strong correlation between low-frequency audiometric pattern with cerebrovascular and peripheral arterial disease and that an audiogram may represent a screening test for those at risk (Friedland, et. al., 2009).The conclusion was that patients with low frequency hearing loss should be considered at-risk for cardiovascular pathology and that appropriate referrals should be made. 

Dr. Friedland is not the only researcher who has built evidence to support this relationship. In fact, a rather large body of evidence has emerged over the past 60 years to suggest  the existence of negative influence of impaired cardiovascular health on both the peripheral and central auditory system—and the potential positive influence of improved cardiovascular health.  Another study established risk factors associated with poorer hearing sensitivity in men included high triglyceride levels, high resting heart rate, and a history of smoking. In women, poor hearing sensitivity was associated with high body mass index, high resting heart rate, fast aortic pulse-wave velocity (PWV), and low ankle–arm index (AAI). This study suggested that the signs of CVD present within the audiometric pattern represent cardiovascular changes that can be modified with treatment (Helzner, E.P., et. al., 2011).  A literature review published by Belmont, J.W., et. al. (2011) points out that  over 100 individual genes implicated in genetic hearing impairment are also associated with congenital and/or progressive cardiac abnormalities.

All this evidence supports a claim that hearing professionals have been making all along about all individuals-the importance of the annual audiogram for adults.  However, if you have heart disease, or heart disease in your family, this importance is increased exponentially and you should definitely have your hearing checked annually. A secondary yet crucial benefit to your annual hearing test, is that early signs of CVD may be observed in your audiogram and may potentially result in an earlier and more successful intervention for an undiagnosed developing heart condition.  If you haven’t scheduled your annual hearing test, please do so today!

References:

Belmont, J.W.; Craigen, W.; Martinez, H.; Jefferies, J.L. (2011).  Genetic disorders with both hearing loss and cardiovascular abnormalities. Advanced Otorhinolaryngology, 70: 66-74.

Freidland, D.R., Cedarburg, C., & Tarima, S. (2009).  Audiometric pattern as a predictor of cardiovascular status: development of a model for assessment of risk. The Laryngoscope, 119(3): 473-86.

Helzner, E.P., Patel; A.S., Pratt; S., Sutton; Tyrell, K.; Cauley, J.A.; Talbott, E.; Kenyon, E.; Harris, T.B.; Satterfield, S.; Ding, J.; Newman, A.B. (2011).  Hearing sensitivity in older adults: associations with cardiovascular risk factors in the health, aging, and body composition study.  Journal of the American Geriatric Society, 59(6): 972-9.