Sleep Apnea & Hearing Loss

Snoring with periodic gasping characterizes sleep apnea, a common disorder affecting millions of adults across North America. This disorder results in poor sleep and, consequently, fatigued. However, recent research also suggests that sleep apnea is associated with other chronic issues, including hearing loss.

Neomi Shah, a researcher with the Montefiore Medical Center in New York City, summarizes these new findings, stating, “"Sleep apnea is more of a systemic and chronic disease than just something that happens when you're sleeping."

Researchers studied close to 14,000 persons in the Hispanic Community Health Study/Study of Latinos. The study found that sleep apnea was associated with a 31 percent increase in high frequency hearing impairment and a 90 percent increase in low frequency hearing impairment.

What is the connection between sleep apnea and hearing loss? The ear is prone to injury from inflammation and abnormal functioning of the blood vessels. Since apnea can cause generalized inflammation, cardiovascular and endocrine problems, it may contribute to hearing loss.

The findings of the study are preliminary and other researchers urge caution in assigning direct causation to sleep apnea for hearing loss.

Neuroscientist Rebecca Spencer states, "You wouldn't know if one comes before the other: sleep apnea appears before hearing loss, or hearing loss appears before sleep apnea and maybe they don't come together at all. They may not be related except by a third factor."

However, since recent research indicates a possible link between sleep apnea and hearing loss, further inquiry is required. Smaller, more focused studies are critical to further understanding. There is the potential that treating sleep apnea may improve hearing loss. Finally, if you have or know someone who has sleep apnea, get screened for hearing loss. The earlier the detection of loss, the greater chance for successful treatment.

Source: CBS News