Can Sleep Apnea Be to Blame for Your Hearing Loss?

By Jennifer Nelson

If you have poor hearing, sleep apnea may be to blame. Say what?

Yes, researchers think sleep apnea does not exist in a bubble but may be a sign of underlying health conditions.

“It probably affects multiple different organs, so I would probably urge we start thinking about sleep apnea as more like a chronic disease with vascular and inflammatory issues,” said Dr. Neomi Shah, an associate director of the Pulmonary Sleep Lab at Montefiore Medical Center in New York and an author of a study linking sleep apnea and hearing loss.

The study looked at of 13,967 subjects from the Hispanic Community Health Study/Study of Latinos, and found that sleep apnea was associated with hearing impairment.

Why the connection? Researchers think underlying inflammation in blood vessels could be to blame, since the ear would be prone to that kind of a problem.

Sleep apnea was associated with a 31 percent increase in high-frequency hearing impairment, a 90 percent increase in low-frequency hearing impairment and a 38 percent increase in combined high- and low-frequency hearing impairment.

The good news is those diagnosed with sleep apnea don’t necessarily become hearing-impaired. Scientists aren’t quite sure yet which comes first, hearing loss or sleep apnea, or if there is a common third factor. Also, treating sleep apnea may improve hearing loss in patients who do have it.

More studies are needed, including whether the sleep disorder actually causeshearing loss and whether other ethnic populations are equally affected.

Lead author Dr. Amit Chopra, at the Albany Medical Center in New York, noted patients with sleep apnea are also at increased risk for a number of health-related issues including heart disease and diabetes, and hearing impairment now may be added to that list.