Keep Your Hearing Close to Your Heart

Over the past 80 years, a plethora of studies have tied the health of your ears to the health of your cardiovascular system — your heart, arteries, and veins. What studies are showing is the possibility of your ears being a window into your overall heart health.

The connections between heart and hearing health are meaningful, as cardiovascular disease can affect a person’s ability to hear and understand speech. Poorer hearing can be caused by restricted blood flow to the inner ear over time. A restriction of blood supply to the ear can cause permanent damage: Starving the cochlea of oxygen can compound other damaging influences, including noise, smoking, and drug intake.

How is my heart connected to my hearing?

The association between cardiovascular health and hearing health is all about blood circulation throughout the body. Circulatory problems have the ability to affect any number of bodily processes, particularly in the most delicate areas of the body — like the cochlea, the delicate inner-ear organ responsible for sending sound signals to the brain. Conditions that restrict blood supply to the cochlea can starve the inner ear of necessary oxygen and permanently damage hearing.

Cardiovascular disease

Cardiovascular disease causes hardening of the arteries, which affects your circulation and, in turn, could affect your hearing. The Ear, Nose, and Throat Institute believes that the link between hearing loss and cardiovascular disease is due to the inner ear’s sensitivity to circulation. The disease causes hardening of the arteries, which affects your circulation and, in turn, your hearing.

Diabetes

If you have a history of heart disease, it is essential to have a baseline hearing evaluation to monitor changes in your hearing throughout the course of the disease. Also, those with diabetes — particularly type 2 — are at a greater risk of heart disease and stroke, making them vulnerable to hearing loss.

Hypertension

High blood pressure can lead to problems in the organs affected, especially the delicate cochlea. Because of how small the cochlea is, the veins and arteries carrying blood through the cochlea are among the tiniest in the body — and therefore important to protect in order to preserve healthy hearing.

Signs

David R. Friedland, M.D., Ph.D., professor and vice chair of Otolaryngology and Communication Sciences at the Medical College of Wisconsin in Milwaukee, believes that “the inner ear is so sensitive to blood flow that it is possible that abnormalities in the cardiovascular system could be noted here earlier than in other less sensitive parts of the body.” Those who have diabetes, who smoke, and who have hypertension should get their hearing checked regularly. But those with heart disease aren’t the only ones at risk. Other health issues can affect your hearing, making hearing screenings imperative at regular checkups and in your medical records.